Malaysia - Both Parents Must Consent on Children’s Religion

Malaysia Children

Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur - A Hindu woman whose ex-husband converted their three children to Islam without telling her finally received support from the court after a nine-year legal battle. A Malaysian court on Monday said the religion of a minor could only be decided with consent from both parents.

This decision is seen as a victory for ethnic and religious minorities in Malaysia, who are trying to win more rights in this Muslim-majority nation. The status of freedom of religion in Malaysia is a controversial issue. Questions including whether Malaysia is an Islamic state or secular state remains unresolved. In recent times, there have been a number of contentious issues and incidents which has tested the relationship between the different religious groups in Malaysia. As of the 2010 Population and Housing Census, 61.3 percent of the population practices Islam; 19.8 percent Buddhism; 9.2 percent Christianity; 6.3 percent Hinduism; and 1.3 percent traditional Chinese religions.

According to the South China Morning Post, Hindu woman won custody of the three children and challenged their conversions in civil courts of Malaysia’s dual-court system. A lower court annulled them, but the Court of Appeal overturned the ruling, saying civil courts had no jurisdiction over Islamic conversions. The ruling was appealed to the nation’s highest court.

“This is a landmark decision and a victory for all Malaysians,” said M. Kulasegaran, Gandhi’s lawyer. There are many similar disputes involving the unilateral conversion of children to Islam and that the ruling meant that non-Muslims now can seek redress in the civil courts because they are the paramount courts and can hear matters related to Islamic affairs even if there is a contradictory sharia court decision, he added.

Previously, the unilateral conversion of minors by Muslim converts had left women with little recourse, as their complaints would be referred to a sharia religious court, where non-Muslims have no standing to make claims. In 2004, in the case of Shamala Sathiyaseelan v Dr. Jeyaganesh C. Mogarajah, the High Court ruled that only the consent of one parent is required in the conversion to Islam of a person below 18 in the Federal Territories.

The ruling leaves police with the responsibility to locate and return Indira’s youngest daughter, taken away by her ex-husband, Muhammad Riduan Abdullah, in 2009, when she was 11 months old, Kulasegaran said.

Photo Credits: StaticFlickr

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