Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) (Amendment) Bill 2016 tabled in Dewan Rakyat

22 Nov 2016 / 00:29 H.

KUALA LUMPUR: The government has tabled a bill to amend the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976, which puts in place legal safeguards against unilateral conversions of minors to Islam.
The bill also seeks to address disputes arising from the dissolution of a marriage arising from a conversion by making clear that the couple have to present a petition for divorce in a civil court and not in a Syariah court.
The Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) (Amendment) Bill 2016 was tabled for first reading in the Dewan Rakyat today by Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said.
The government's move to amend the legislation comes following the controversy arising from two recent cases of M Indira Gandhi and S Deepa, whose Muslim convert ex-husbands had unilaterally converted their children to Islam.
The bill will be debated by parliament at its meeting next year.
Among the amendments made to the act was the insertion of Section 88A, a new section which makes clear that both parents in a civil marriage must agree to the conversion of a minor into Islam.
Currently, the law is silent on this aspect.
The section also clearly states that the child will remain in the religion practised by the parents at the time the marriage was registered, and may choose his own religion on reaching the age of 18.
"Where a party to a marriage has converted to Islam, the religion of any child of that marriage shall remain as the religion of the parties to the marriage prior to the conversion, except where both parties to the marriage agree to a conversion of the child to Islam, subject always to the wishes of the child where he or she has attained the age of eighteen years," the section states.
The section also allows for a child to remain in the religion of either one of the prior religions of his parents before the conversion to Islam, in a case when either parents professed different religions at the time of marriage.
In addition to that, another new section is included in the amendment in dealing with property distribution of a converted spouse in the case of death.
"Where a person who has converted to Islam dies before the non-Muslim marriage of which that person is a party has been dissolved, the person's matrimonial assets should be distributed by the court among interested parties in accordance with the provisions of this section upon application by any interested party," section 51A reads.
The court, however, should exercise its duty in distributing the assets by considering, among others,  the duration of the marriage and the needs of the children.
The amendment to the act was one of the measures to address the issue arising out of the conversion to Islam of one party to a marriage.
Deputy Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Azizah Mohd Dun said the amendment showed that the government was responsive to the issues of public concern.
"We are not just saying it, but have actually done it. We will wait for it to be debated and passed in Parliament," she said.
Barisan Nasional Backbenchers Club chairman Tan Sri Shahrir Samad said the amendment would recognise the sanctity of a marriage and the family institution.
Meanwhile, the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) welcomed the proposed amendments, calling it a “positive action”.
Its vice-president Jagir Singh said the proposed amendments within Section 88A are in line with the Cabinet’s decision made in April 2009 as the MCCBCHST has been pursuing the matter to disallow unilateral conversion of minors for the past seven years.
The Cabinet had then said that both parents must consent before a child of a civil marriage could be converted to another religion.

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