The government should stop paying "lip service" to ending the child conversion controversy as shown in the M Indira Gandhi case, and instead amend the necessary laws.
NGO Lawyers for Liberty's (LFL) legal and campaign coordinator Melissa Sasidaran said the cabinet had issued a directive that a child must be raised in the professed faith of the parents at the time of their marriage, should any dispute arise.
However, she said the 2009 directive was merely 'lip service' until the necessary legal amendments are made.
“ The directive remains merely a lip service as efforts at amending relevant laws such as the Law Reform (Marriage & Divorce) Act 1976 appears to have been shelved despite the urgency and gravity of the issue.
“ We call upon the government to urgently amend the relevant laws to resolve and provide a permanent and just solution to end the unconstitutional unilateral conversion of children to any religion,” she said in a statement today.
She was responding to a Dec 30 Court of Appeal decision against Indira, whose ex-husband had unilaterally converted himself and the couple's three, then underage, children to Islam, and was subsequently awarded custody of the children by the syariah court.
The appellate court decided that it did not have the jurisdiction to hear whether the conversion was valid.
Melissa expressed disappointment in the decision, saying that it is just one of many instances where conversion to Islam is used as an unfair method to gain custody of children.
“ This is clearly preposterous as Indira will not be able to obtain justice due to the simple fact that the Syariah court has no jurisdiction over a non-Muslim.
“ In addition, the Syariah court has no jurisdiction to determine the constitutionality of the conversion which is still in dispute, as it is an inferior court,” she said.
BN, MIC blamed
Meanwhile, Ipoh Barat MP M Kula Segaran blamed MIC and BN for the long-drawn stalemate surrounding Indira's plight, pointing out that the ruling part was primarily at the core of the legal stand-off owing to an amendment to laws governing judicial powers in the past.
“ MIC and the BN must take responsibility for the disturbing state of affairs in conversion cases.
“ For MIC was one of the main parties in supporting the constitutional amendment brought by former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad in 1988 to article 121 of the Federal Constitution.
“ The new article 121(1A) states that civil courts have no jurisdiction in respect of any matter within the jurisdiction of the syariah courts,” he said in a statement yesterday.
He was responding to MIC’s public statements urging resolution to Indira’s suffering following a controversial ruling by the Court of Appeal last week.
Kula Segaran pointed out minister and MIC president S Subramaniam was a member of two cabinet committees set up over the years to resolve the conversion conundrum.
“ He has been the cabinet member on the conversion committee since 2009 and what has he done to date to find a permanent solution to this thorny and sensitive issue?
“Just issuing a statement to cool the issue leads us nowhere.
“ Subramaniam must come out in the open and set out the issues he has raised to resolve this controversy. What solution has he made to date?
“ Also who is or hampering a permanent and comprehensive solution to this matter?
“ Or is the committee is in name only but dysfunctional in reality?” asked Kula Segaran, who is also DAP national vice chairperson and Indira's lawyer.