Malaysia PM Najib: Amended Act could end ugly disputes when interfaith couples divorce

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced that amendments to the marriage law would be tabled in the next Parliament session.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced that amendments to the marriage law would be tabled in the next Parliament session.PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced on Thursday (Aug 25) that amendments to the marriage law would be tabled in the next Parliament session, possibly ending years of disputes over parenting rights between divorced Muslim and non-Muslim spouses.

"The amendment of this Act will provide an opportunity for both partners to resolve the issue of civil marriage in the civil courts, thus enabling them to continue their life like other couples to marry non-Muslims," Datuk Seri Najib said at the National Women's Day celebration.

"At the same time, the clash between the Civil Court and Syariah Court arising from conversion to Islam by one of the spouses may be removed and the legislative gaps and duplication of the provisions within the existing law may be resolved," he added.

Custodial tussles between Muslim and non-Muslim divorcees brought to light the issue of parenting rights after well-known court cases of unilateral conversion also highlighted issues of child support and custody.

Mr Najib said the amendments would "maintain the principle of plurality" besides upholding the rule of Islam.

In 2009, the Cabinet had decided to bar unilateral conversion of children but the proposed amendments were shelved from tabling in Parliament after intervention by the Conference of Rulers.

Mr Najib also announced the setup of a taskforce to investigate sex crimes, in particular those involving sex predators targeting children.

"I am very disturbed by reports of abuses and crimes committed against children and the frequency of it has made it worrisome for me and the people," said Mr Najib.

The abuse of children came to light after British authorities arrested Richard Huckle, a paedophile who resided in Malaysia and had uploaded thousands of photos and videos in the dark web. Following reports of Huckle's activities in Malaysia, and also The Star's reports on the prevalence of sexual grooming, public outrage has grown, with demands for laws against sexual grooming.

ltrinna@sph.com.sg