Bill on unilateral conversion tabled in Parliament

 |Nov 23, 2016
M. Indira Gandhi with S.Deepa (left) and Minister in Prime Minister's Department Azalina Othman.
M. Indira Gandhi with S.Deepa (left) and Minister in Prime Minister’s Department Azalina Othman.

The Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) (Amendment) Bill 2016 tabled in the Dewan Rakyat on Monday, among other things aims to resolve issues in court about spouses who convert to Islam.

The bill tabled for first reading by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Azalina Othman Said also touches on the religious status of children of divorced couples.

The proposed amendment also stipulates that a child will remain in the religion of his or her parents at the time of marriage should one of the spouse later convert to Islam.

The amendment specifically states that both parents in a civil marriage have to give consent for their child to be converted to Islam.

However, when the child is 18 years old, he or she will be allowed to choose their own religion.

S.Deepa (right) and her ex-husband Izwan Abdullah a.k.a N.Viran.
S.Deepa (right) and her ex-husband Izwan Abdullah a.k.a N.Viran.

The amendment also entitles a husband or wife who has converted to Islam to file a petition for divorce to dissolve their civil marriage provided under subsection 51 (1) of the bill.

At present, a husband or wife who has converted to Islam cannot file a petition for divorce in the civil court, because the right to dissolve the marriage is given to spouses who have not embraced Islam.

Therefore, as long as a husband or wife who has not embraced Islam does not file a petition for divorce in a civil court, the civil marriage of the couple of different religions is still considered valid under the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976.

The amendment also confers equal rights in giving consent for marriage to the mother or adopted mother of a person below 21 years of age, the same as that given to the father as enshrined in Article 3 of subsection 12 (1) of the bill.

The bill would also amend Clause 8 to extend the duration of the order for maintenance if the child is seeking higher education or training.

Azalina said the bill would be tabled for second reading next year.

M. Indira Gandhi (left) and her ex-husband Mohd Ridhuan Abdullah a.k.a Pathmanathan.
M. Indira Gandhi (left) and her ex-husband Mohd Ridhuan Abdullah a.k.a Pathmanathan.

In May, Prime Minister Najib Razak said the government is looking into resolving conflicts between Muslim converts and their spouses over the religion of their children.

The government’s move to amend the legislation comes following the controversy arising from two prominent unilateral conversion cases of M.Indira Gandhi and S.Deepa, whose Muslim convert ex-husbands had converted their children to Islam.