The Federal Court’s decision concerning the unilateral conversion of minors is the “common sense” interpretation of the law, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) has said.
In line with this, it called for Article 12(4) of the Federal Constitution to be amended to be in line with the court’s 2018 decision in the M Indira Gandhi’s custodial case in that the conversion of a minor must require the consent of both parents.
Alternately, the Commission proposed a new law should be enacted to make clear the matter in safeguarding the religious identity of minors.
“In light of the ongoing discussion surrounding the status of unilateral conversion of minors in Selangor, Suhakam would like to reiterate our position on this issue, which is that the right of the child to preserve his or her identity is guaranteed by Article 8 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and must be respected and taken into consideration in the assessment of the child's best interests.
“Suhakam supports the unanimous decision of the Federal Court in the case of Indira Gandhi (below)... giving due recognition to the importance of both parents, which is a common-sense interpretation of the law.
“Suhakam believes that amending Article 12(4) to clarify the original intent of the Constitution, or by enacting law that will comprehensively articulate the responsibilities, rights and privileges related to the identity, including religion, of minors will safeguard the core values of tolerance, understanding and mutual respect in matters relating to freedom of religion and belief in our society,” it said in a statement.
Article 12(4) states: "For the purposes of Clause (3) the religion of a person under the age of eighteen years shall be decided by his parent or guardian".
However, the landmark apex court ruling had ruled that the definition of "parent" should be plural.
Suhakam’s statement came amidst reports that the Selangor government had intended to table an amendment to the Islamic Religious Administration Enactment (State of Selangor) to allow unilateral child conversion last month.
This was alleged to have been foiled, however, after speaker Ng Suee Lim cut short the state assembly sitting.
The latter had denied that his cutting short the session was to scuttle the bill.
Selangor Umno recently called for the amendment bill to be tabled in the coming November sitting instead.
This despite Menteri Besar Amirudin Shari saying the Selangor ruler was reviewing the bill.