Converts exploit Malaysia’s Syariah court to get custody of kids


(The Straits Times) – THE separate jurisdictions of Malaysia’s Islamic and civil courts are being exploited by estranged spouses to gain custody of children, a situation that poses risks to national harmony, the Attorney-General has said.

Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail was referring in particular to inter-racial marriages where one spouse converts to Islam after marriage, and when the relationship sours, gains custody of their children through the Syariah court while ignoring the civil court’s ruling.

He did not cite specific cases in his speech on Nov 11 at the National Law Conference. However, there have been two high-profile cases recently in which two non-Muslim women’s ex-husbands, who were Muslim converts, made away with their children after gaining custody through the Syariah court, while ignoring civil court rulings in their ex-wives’ favour. Both cases are now with the Court of Appeal.

There is no data on such cases but activists say there are a handful of cases in each state annually.

Civil rights activists responded to Mr Abdul Gani’s comments by urging the authorities to lay out clear policies and amend laws to clarify how custody of children from mixed marriages involving a Muslim should be decided.

Mr Abdul Gani also noted in his speech that the increasing number of such cases has led to allegations of racial discrimination by the courts and the authorities, including the police and the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC), which dent their credibility.

“The failure of the converting spouses to resolve the family arrangements prior to conversion, and in fact attempting to use the different jurisdictions of the civil and Syariah courts to their advantage, jeopardises not only family harmony but also potentially national harmony,” he said.