Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced yesterday that amendments to the marriage law would be tabled in the next Parliament session in October, 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 parents brought to light the issue of parenting rights after well-known court cases of unilateral conversion of children 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 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 task force to investigate sex crimes, in particular those involving sex predators targeting children.
The abuse of children came under the spotlight after Britain arrested Richard Huckle, a paedophile who resided in Malaysia and uploaded thousands of photos and videos on the Internet. The case triggered public outrage, with calls for tougher laws against sexual crimes.