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For the sake of Indira and others

  • Ambiguity from the legal blind spots has further complicated the issue, making it extremely tacky to handle such cases. Photo courtesy: Sin Chew Daily

Sin Chew Daily

In a landmark ruling on Monday, the Federal Court ruled in favor of Indira Gandhi in the case of the conversion of her children by her Muslim ex-husband, putting an end to the seemingly endless controversies over the unilateral conversion of minors while protecting the rights of non-Muslims in the country.

According to the court ruling, parents cannot convert their children without the consent of their spouses.

The Federal Court also ruled that civil courts had the judicial right to hear any case arising from the conversion of children by their parents, and that all minors must take the oath of conversion "in person" and not by someone else acting on their behalf.

The controversy has stemmed from the conversion of an underage child by one of the non-Muslim parents who has been converted to Muslim. Such an action has not only jeopardized the right of the other party but could also give rise to serious family problems.

Take Indira's case for instance, her ex-husband unilaterally converted their three children after he embraced Islam in 2009, and subsequently obtained the custodial right of their children at a syariah court, forcing Indira to be separated from her children, despite the fact the cabinet decided in 2009 that underage children of converted parents could keep their existing religions until they are free to choose their own religions at 18.

Nonetheless, as the resolution did not have legal binding, it failed to resolve the issue of custody of converted children.

Indira's lengthy battle for the custodial right of her children has also entailed the question of jurisdiction of civil and religious courts, and controversy over whether the word "parent" in Article 12 (4) of the Federal Constitution denotes either parent or both parents.

Ambiguity from the legal blind spots has further complicated the issue, making it extremely tacky to handle such cases.

Following the Federal Court ruling, all child conversion controversies should come to a close, and Indira can now end her tiring battle and be reunited with her children.

It is imperative that the police take immediate action to help bring Indira's children back to her, now that the Federal Court has ruled in favor of her.

Prior to this, the government drew the ire of the public by withdrawing Section 88A (prevention of unilateral child conversion by parents) while tabling the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) (Amendment) Bill 2017 in order to avoid a clash with the Federal Constitution as well as contradicting earlier verdicts handed down by the Federal Court and Court of Appeal.

However, following the landmark decision by the Federal Court, such worries are no longer substantiated. It is therefore hoped that the government will reconsider incorporating Section 88A into the amendment bill in a bid to address the issue once and for all.

 

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