It’s not that inter-racial marriages jeopardise national harmony, but the ambiguity of the law which results in such conflicts.
It is worth pointing out that majority of the cases where custody disputes due to unilateral conversions have occurred are not interracial marriages, but marriages between non-Muslim couples that took place in the civil court.
The dispute happens when one parent unilaterally converts his/her child without consulting the other spouse.
In theory, of course we would expect the converting spouse to resolve any family arrangements prior to converting. That would be the responsible thing to do. However, if a grey area exists and enables certain individuals to take advantage of this loophole, then the best way to resolve this problem is by amending the law.
Specifically, the problem lies in the court’s interpretation of Article 12(4) of the Federal Constitution, which states that “the religion of a person under the age of 18 shall be decided by his parent or guardian”.
However, in the Federal Court’s 2007 decision on the R Subashini v. T Saravanan case, the judges took the word “parent” to mean “one single parent”. This despite the fact that Article 160 of the Federal Constitution and the Eleventh Schedule 2(95) provide that in interpreting the Federal Constitution, “words in the singular include the plural, and words in the plural include the singular”.
If the AG does not want the integrity of the Royal Malaysian Police and the Attorney General’s Chambers to be called into question, he should push for 2009 amendments to be tabled in Parliament. To avoid any ambiguity, Article 12(4) of the Federal Constitution should also be amended so that the words “parent” and “guardian” are read in the plural form.
19 November 2014