Thursday, July 25, 2013

Court ruling on conversion a step forward, say lawyers

The High Court's decision that both parents and children have the right to religious freedom is a step forward on how this controversial issue should be dealt with, said constitutional lawyers and an interfaith council.

The court's decision in allowing Indira Gandhi's application to quash the conversion of her three children made it clear that the conversion of a minor to Islam can only be done with the consent of both parents.

Lawyer Malik Imtiaz Sarwar said the court had asserted itself and shown it's a bastion of constitutional rights for all citizens.

"The judge had rightly looked at various constitutional laws to conclude as he did. His decision is good as it grants relief to the mother," he said.

Another lawyer, Edmund Bon, said the decision was encouraging as the judge who presided over the case had applied common sense.

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"Children's rights must be protected, as stated in the human rights law under the convention of the rights of the children," he said.

"The judge had properly exercised the jurisdiction to set aside the conversion on the basis that procedures had not been followed."

Hence, Bon said state laws should also be amended to reflect this to follow the constitution.

Meanwhile, Syahredzan Johan said conversion laws have always been debated heatedly.

"Unfortunately, in most court decisions, it is never in the favour of non-Muslims. That is why this is a very welcome decision," he said, adding however, the decision could be overturned in the appellate court.

Syahredzan said constitutionally, both parents have legal rights to the children.

"When you enter into a marriage, both should have their say in the child's well-being. Just because one spouse converts, it does not give them more right to decide on the children's religion," he added.

The High court in Ipoh had allowed Indira's judicial review application in quashing the three certificates obtained by her estranged husband, K. Patmanathan, in converting their three children to Islam without her knowledge.

Judicial Commissioner Lee Swee Seng nullified the conversion of Indira's children as she was not present when her estranged husband changed the children's religion.

The Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) deputy president Jagir Singh said it has been fighting for this for decades.

Jagir said that under the United Nation's Conversion Convention of Children's Right, it is stated that the children's rights must be considered in any conversion.

"The rights of these minors must be protected and when they reach the age of 18, they can decide for themselves," he told The Malaysian Insider.

"This is a correct decision. Under the Federal Constitution, both parents should be allowed to decide in any conversion of their children."

He added that there have been hundreds of cases like Indira's that have gone unreported.

"Such cases cause a lot of pain, especially to a parent, in most cases, mothers. This should be addressed to avoid such instances in the future," said Jagir. - July 26, 2013.

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