Liow: Withdrawal of unilateral conversion ban not a ‘U-turn’

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 12 — MCA president Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai denied the government is backpeddling by dropping a proposed clause banning unilateral child conversions in its recent amendments to the marriage and divorce law.

Liow who is also a member of the Cabinet said the issue was only delayed and will be dealt with later as constitutional changes were required, The Star reported today.

“Many accused the government of making a ‘U-turn’ when Clause 88A was removed. This is not so.

“The issue of unilateral conversion will be resolved later, as we have to address the Federal Constitution first,” he was quoted saying.

He reiterated the government’s stand that the proposed Section 88A in a 2016 draft of the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) (Amendment) Bill was withdrawn because the Attorney-General found it against the Federal Constitution.

Liow also insisted that the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) (Amendment) Bill 2017, tabled in the Dewan Rakyat earlier this week, was a “big step” forward to protect the rights of a non-Muslim spouse when the other converted to Islam mid-way into the marriage.

“To accuse the government of not having the political will to prohibit unilateral conversion is wrong. We are not back to square one on this. In fact, we have taken a big step.

“Out of two main issues, we have managed to settle one,” the Bentong MP was quoted saying.

He was referring to the two key issues in the 2016 Bill that had contained the proposed Section 88A to ban unilateral child conversions to Islam and also addressed issues of divorce for civil marriages where a spouse subsequently becomes a Muslim convert.

Section 88A requires the consent of both parents in a civil marriage for their child to be converted to Islam if one of them becomes a Muslim convert.

The 2016 version of the Bill was abruptly withdrawn on Monday and replaced with the 2017 Bill which had the same amendments except for the proposed Section 88A clause.

The 2017 amendments empower a Muslim convert in a civil marriage to file for divorce after the religious conversion, besides entitling the surviving spouse, children and parents of the Muslim convert to the matrimonial assets if the latter dies before the divorce.

Liow was also reported saying MCA would continue to fight to bar unilateral religious conversions and will also seek feedback from NGOs.

Critics of the unilateral conversion practice had panned the government’s decision to clause and following the move, highlighted the missed opportunity for a solution to interfaith child custody conflicts after a parent converts to Islam.

Wanita MCA had this week urged for the amendment of the Federal Constitution’s Article 12(4) to clearly state that a minor’s faith should be decided by both parents, pointing out a mysterious 2002 printing modification which changed this constitutional provision to read as “ibu atau bapa” (mother or father) without going through parliamentary proceedings.

The then Malaysian Bar president Christopher Leong had on June 18, 2013 noted that the government-printed Federal Constitution’s Bahasa Malaysia version had always translated “parent” to the plural form of ‘ibu bapa’ (father and mother), but had in the 2002 edition translated it to read ‘ibu atau bapa’ (father or mother).

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