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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Amendments to marriage and divorce laws the way forward

Amendments to the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976, as a way forward in resolving some of the issues pertaining to marriages and divorce when one partner in a marriage converts to Islam, has been considered and discussed for the past few years.
Recently we revisited these issues and after lengthy discussions, came up with a list of amendments which we felt could assist resolving many of the problems associated with such marriages.
There were some areas of the amended act which did not get the agreement of the attorney-general because the Attorney-General's Chambers felt it was not consistent with provisions of the Federal Constitution and some decided legal decisions in the upper courts of the country.
This created an impasse, whereby passing the entire amendment came to a standstill.
Amendments are being proposed to many different sections of the act which collectively will help resolve many of the issues faced by such marriages.
The current amendments involve at least six separate sections of the act.
Collectively, they will:
  • Allow marriages where one partner has converted to Islam to be dissolved in the civil courts. The current legal provision does not allow that.
  • It will allow the courts to make provisions for the wife and husband and for the support, care and custody of the children of the marriages as provided for under Part VII and Part VIII of the Law Reform Act.
  • The proposed amendment also addresses the issues which arise if a converted person dies before the marriage is officially dissolved.
  • Provides clear provisions for the distribution of assets acquired during the marriage.
  • Enable provision for the maintenance of a child till they complete their higher education.
The issue of contention is the proposal to include a new section under 88A pertaining to the religion of a child under such marriages.
The attorney-general was of the opinion that the proviso will involve a constitutional argument, and suggested that the constitutional concern is addressed first before this section could be included.
The current attempt to reintroduce the amendment without Section 88A, is to allow the public to get the benefit of the other amendments while we continue relentlessly to address the issues of unilateral conversion.
I am sure all clear-thinking Malaysians across all religious backgrounds, do not want the continuous repetition of breastfeeding infants being snatched away from the breast of their mothers under the guise of religious conversion.

I hope we as a nation can collectively act to prevent such incidence. Once these amendments are done, the civil courts will have a stronger say in addressing some of these concerns.
We hope they will help alleviate some of the problems.
I share the views, disappointments, and statements expressed by everyone over the exclusion of Section 88A.
I would like to express my strong commitment to continue the struggle to find a lasting solution to this thorny problem.

DR S SUBRAMANIAM is the MIC president and health minister.  Mkini

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