PUTRAJAYA: The Malaysian Bar welcomed the tabling of the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Amendment Bill in November last year which was aimed at addressing unilateral conversion of minors to Islam and urged the government to expedite the matter.
Its president, Steven Thiru said the proposed amendments would ensure that a minor’s religion would remain that of the father and mother, prior to the conversion of either parent.
“The Malaysian Bar urges the government to expedite the amendments, and further, move towards standardising all state laws that provide for a contrary position,” he said in his speech at the Judiciary’s ceremonial opening of the Legal Year 2017 at the Putrajaya International Convention Centre here yesterday.
Thiru also said while the amendments were pending, state legislatures should refrain from enacting laws that would allow for unilateral conversion.
In his speech earlier, Thiru said unilateral conversions involving children had been brought to the forefront of public discourse due to the protracted legal battles in cases involving Hindu mothers, M Indira Gandhi and S Deepa, and their Muslim convert ex-husbands.
“These cases have brought unspeakable misery and pain to the families involved,” he said.
The Perlis state legislative body in December last year passed an amendment that removed the need for the consent of both parents before a child can be converted to Islam. Thiru said besides unilateral conversion, the Bar was also collaborating with the government on legal issues involving child sexual abuse.
“The Malaysian Bar was appalled at the public disclosure that close to 200 young and vulnerable children were systematically sexually abused over a period of almost nine years by Richard Huckle, a British citizen residing in Malaysia,” he said.
He said the government’s swift response to those events by setting up a new Task Force on Sexual Crimes and proposing the Child Sexual Crimes Act, which sought to reform the present state of the law in respect of child sexual offences, was commendable.
“The Act will introduce new offences against children, such as child grooming, and give paramount consideration to the evidence of children and establish a special court for child sexual offenders,” he added.
Thiru said the Bar formed a Child Rights Committee in August 2016 to focus on studying and proposing legislative reforms for better protection of the welfare and rights of children and also to train lawyers on ethical legal representation of children facing conflict with the law.
“The Committee has been in consultation with the Task Force on Sexual Crimes to discuss the legal framework for the proposed Child Sexual Crimes Act, and has written to the Prime Minister’s Office to request a copy of the draft Bill, and we hope to receive it soon to give our comments,” he said. — Bernama