Perlis vote on kids' conversion draws flak

KUALA LUMPUR • Non-Muslim politicians are up in arms after the Perlis state assembly voted to amend a family law that could affect non-Muslim rights, and is in conflict with a Bill mooted by the federal government.

Perlis lawmakers voted by 13 to one on Thursday to amend an Act that would allow children in the state to be converted to Islam without consent from both parents, the Malay Mail Online (MMO) news site reported yesterday.

The vote comes just weeks after the Malaysian government tabled a Bill in the federal Parliament to outlaw the unilateral religious conversions of minors by one parent.

In several controversial cases, non-Muslim parents in estranged marriages converted to Islam and then quickly converted their young children too, in a strategy to gain custody of the minors from their non-Muslim spouses.

The non-Muslim spouses currently cannot appeal for the children's custody in the civil court, as family cases involving Muslims are heard only in the Syariah Court. The federal government's Bill that was presented to Parliament in November aims to block cases where one parent could convert the children.

Perlis Menteri Besar Azlan Man yesterday accused critics of blowing up the issue, reported the New Straits Times news site. He said lawmakers were simply amending the wording of the Family Act in the Bahasa Malaysia version to be consistent with the English version.

But non-Muslim politicians were not placated. "Whilst the federal Cabinet has been trying to find a permanent solution to an issue which has been identified as a major thorn in inter-religious relationships in this country, this act by a Barisan Nasional government (in Perlis) is a major step backwards to religious harmony in this country," Malaysian Indian Congress president S. Subramaniam told MMO.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 10, 2016, with the headline 'Perlis vote on kids' conversion draws flak'. Print Edition | Subscribe