Did Putrajaya cave to Muslims on child’s faith clause, asks Indira Gandhi’s lawyer

Melati A. Jalil

Lawyer M. Kulasegaran with his client, M. Indira Gandhi (left), who is fighting an interfaith custody battle, says the government is listening to the objections from Muslim groups. – Hakam pic, August 7, 2017.

PUTRAJAYA has bowed down to Muslim pressure following the decision to drop a clause that protects a child’s faith in the amendments to the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) (Amendment) Bill 2016, lawyer M. Kulasegaran said. 

The Ipoh Barat MP, who represented M. Indira Gandhi in an interfaith custody battle, said he didn’t want to speculate on the implications of Clause 88A’s withdrawal from the bill and how it would affect Indira’s case.  

“We have to see what are the new amendments… I can’t speculate. That is why I said they should have discussed with stakeholders and there must be consultation before they bring in the bill, not bring in the bill, then hold a discussion.

“I think they are listening to the objections from Muslim groups. Cabinet gave the commitment in 2007 so what good reasons (do) they have in removing this?” he told The Malaysian Insight. 

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Azalina Othman Said earlier today withdrew the bill before question time.

She said that the new bill will be tabled tomorrow without Clause 88A. 

Clause 88A, which states that the religion of the child should remain in the religion he or she was raised in before one parent converted, was a new addition to the amendments.

It sparked some debate with those against it saying that it would make it impossible for the converted spouse to gain custody of the child and also prevent the child from ever becoming a Muslim. 

Azalina said the amendments were needed so that it would not be in conflict with provisions under the federal constitution as well as be in line with the courts’ decisions on the interpretation of the Article 12(4) of the constitution, which states that the religion of a person under the age of 18 shall be decided by his parents or a guardian. 

Indira has been fighting her former husband, Muhammad Riduan Abdullah’s unilateral conversion of their three children to Islam in 2009.

Riduan had taken the youngest child and converted all three children to Islam. The two older children remained with Indira and in October 2009, Riduan obtained a shariah court order which awarded custody of the children to him.

Indira told The Malaysian Insight that it was back to square one following government’s move to drop the clause. 

“I don’t know why they are dropping the clause because the tussle begins because of that. The problem starts when one spouse converts the child and the child’s status is in limbo. That is what the parents are fighting for,” she said. 

She said the government should not delay or drag the matter any longer and the removal of the clause would only prolong the suffering of families caught in such cases. 

“There is no point in amending the bill and write a new one without it. It’s like you are giving hope and then you are pulling it back. It’s not going to solve problems. There is no ending to it.”

Lawyer Dr Kelvin Yii, meanwhile, asked whether cabinet members and Barisan Nasional MPs from Sabah and Sarawak were consulted over the matter. 

“If they weren’t consulted or even agreed to it, it thus clearly shows how the other component parties and MPs are just subservient to the wishes of Umno-BN at the expense of the desires of their own state and constituency,” Yii, who also special assistant to Sarawak DAP chairman said. 

Islamic party PAS last year told non-Muslims to stay out of its president, Abdul Hadi Awang’s, private member’s bill to enhance the shariah court’s powers or Muslims might retaliate by opposing the amendments to the bill that would address the long-standing problem of unilateral conversion. 

In April, Hadi also demanded the setting up of a special committee to review the bill, as the amendments – withdrawn today – would affect the freedom of Muslim to practise their religion. – August 7, 2017.

Sign up or sign in here to comment.