The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) endorses the unanimous decision of the Federal Court in the case of Indira Gandhi on 29 January 2018, which invalidated the unilateral and/or forced religious conversion of minors, in line with the cabinet decision in 2009, says Razali Ismail.
Suhakam hopes the court’s decision will now guide with clarity administrative and policy directions to establish coherent and consistent standards for reconciling the principle of the best interests of the child with the constitutional rights of parents in the exercise of their freedom of religion.
Suhakam supports the affirmative precedent set by the judges, who have in the name of fairness, equality and justice, interpreted the word parent in Article 12(4) of the Federal Constitution to include both parents, giving due recognition to the importance of both parents, which is a common sense interpretation of the law.
It behoves Parliament to immediately amend Article 12(4) and/or enact law to clarify the original intent of the Constitution, in safeguarding the core values of tolerance, understanding and mutual respect in matters relating to freedom of religion and belief of our society.
In committing firmly to respecting the court’s and the cabinet’s decisions, and in line with the principle of stare decisis, the government must now seriously take steps to re-introduce section 88A of the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) (Amendment) Bill 2017, as this is the only effective solution to prohibit the unilateral and/or forced religious conversion of minors by one parent.
Such an amendment will also provide an enabling environment for the realisation of every right of the child and to ensure equal rights for each spouse upon the dissolution of their marriage.
Suhakam believes that the religious conversion of minors cannot be done administratively and recommends that the conversion of minors to Islam be carried out before a judge of the Sharia Court, where both parents are present before the judge.
Tan Sri Razali Ismail is the Suhakam chairman.