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Friday, June 28, 2013

Parent(s) at the heart of dispute over child’s religion

The tussle is over just one word – shall it be “parents” or “parent”?
The government wants it to be good enough for just one parent to decide for a minor to convert religion and tabled the bill for this on Wednesday. 
But religious groups and civil society leaders have slammed this move as unconstitutional.
They want the key word in the law to remain “parents” so that both parents of a minor must agree to any conversion of religion. 
The bill in question is the Administration of Islamic Law (Federal Territories) Bill 2013.
Two groups that have raised major concerns are the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) and the Bar Council.
The proposed bill would affect non-Muslims and they also see it as a turnabout of sorts. 
They point out that just four years ago, then Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz said the government will ban the unilateral conversion of minors to Islam.
He said this in response to high-profile cases of children being converted to Islam while one parent objected.
The religious group said in a statement to the media: "It appears that the Cabinet's promise and undertaking on this issue was not sincere."
It added: "If 'parent' is interpreted to mean 'single parent', it will be against the Federal Constitution."
The Bar Council too raised a similar point. In a statement, it said:  "Any legislation that is inconsistent with the Federal Constitution that provides that the consent of only one parent is sufficient for the conversion of a minor to any religion would therefore be unconstitutional."
Bar Council president Christopher Leong urged the government to bring the new law into line with the Federal Constitution.
Leong noted that the under the Constitution, when both parents are alive, both must decide on the conversion of their child who is a minor. 
Only when it is just one parent that is alive, can one parent decide on such a conversion.
The religious group went further than the Bar Council and called for the bill – which lets the Syariah High Court decide whether a person is a Muslim – to be withdrawn until it has been thoroughly debated by all stakeholders. 
It said:  “Bulldozing through this bill is unacceptable and would be unconstitutional, giving no choice to the affected persons to look for remedy through other legal channels locally and internationally."
The Malaysian Consuttative Council Of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) vehemently objects to some  provisions  found in the RANG UNDANGUNDANG PENTADBIRAN  AGAMA  ISLAM (WILAYAH-WILAYAH PERSEKUTUAN) 2013 tabled in Parliament  for its first reading on 26 June 2013 as they affect the Non-Muslims.
The Bill under disguise of lslamic Laws is unilaterally trying to alter the Federal Constitution by translating  the word "parent" in the Federal  Constitution to mean "lbu atau Bapa" as opposed  to "lbubapa".
Any conversion of a minor by a single parent will cause serious injustice  to the non-converting parent and the children of the marriage - Section 107 (b) "jika dia belum mencapai  umur lapan belas tahun, ibu atau bapa atau penjaganya  mengizinkan  pemelukan agama  lslam olehnya"
This provision  would further  creates social injustice and is contrary to the constitutional scheme of things.
Cabinet held responsible
We hold the Federal Cabinet accountable for this transgression, that is, in spite of the Cabinet decision of 2314/2013 whereby it was decided that a single parent cannot convert a minor child of the marriage.
Despite that public statement, the Cabinet deem it fit to introduce the above provision in D.R. 112013.|t appears  that the Cabinet promise  and undertaking  on this issue was not sincere.
The MCCBCHST wishes to reiterate that any unilateral conversion of their children by one parent encroaches into the lives of Non-Muslims. Such conversions are not only unconstitutional but are morally and ethically wrong.
We ask Cabinet members how they will feel if their children are unilaterally converted. Do not do things to others, which you do not want to be done to you.
Absurd and against the spirit & letter of the Federal Constitution
We must warn that if "Parent"  in Article 12(a) is to be interpreted  to mean "single" parent",  it will go against the spirit and letter of Article 4 of the Federal Constitution  - the Supreme Law of the land.
lf this lnterpretation is advanced,  then there is nothing  to stop the other  single parent to convert  back the child to the Original religion.  No religious law can over-ride the constitution.  
This would  produce  an absurd result and therefore  this could  not be meaning intended.
Reliance on the case of SUBASHINI (2008), may not be in order as the case appears to be wrongly decided due to the following:-
i) The Court did not apply the Statutory Interpretation clause. Art. 160(1) (Eleventh Schedule) under which "words importing the masculine gender include female" and "words in the singular include the plural, and words in the plural include the singular.
ii) The guardianship of Infants Act, 1961 which provides for equality of parental rights.
iii) lf single "parent"  can convert,  then it would lead to an absurd result, as the nonconverting spouse can similarly by virtue of being a single parent convert back her child to the original faith.
Syariah and not civil court to decide if a person is Muslim or not
We understand  that the Bill also provides for Syariah High Court to decide whether a person is a Muslim or not. See Section 51(3Xb)  (x) and (xi). 
This power has always been with the Civil High Court and not the Syariah Court. 
The amendment  thus proposed  is unconstitutional.
The MCCBCHST, therefore calls upon the Cabinet to withdraw the above Bill, until its provisions have been thoroughly debated by all the stake holders.
Any bull dozing through of the Bill will not be accepted and would also be unconstitutional, giving no choice to the affected persons to look for remedy peacefully through other legal channels locally and internationally. 

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