The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) welcomes the proposed amendments to the Law Reform (Marriage & Divorce) Act 1976. In part, it confirms the Federal Court decision in Deepa’s case: where parties were married under civil law, the dissolution of the marriage and all related matters are also to be dealt with under civil law.
The proposed new S88A is greeted with a big sigh of relief. Families will no longer be torn apart by the bane of unilateral conversions of children by one parent to the religion of Islam. The proposed section provides that the consent of both parents is required before a child may be converted to the religion of Islam. This rights based approach to allowing children time choose their own religion when they becomes adults is much welcomed. The proposed amendments uphold the principle of participation – a key principle in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of A Child (CRC) that Malaysia acceded to in 1995.
With the proposed amendments, either party may petition for divorce, and divorce by mutual consent is also allowed. There is a new S51A which empowers the civil court to deal with the estate of the party who has converted to Islam before his civil marriage is dissolved. With the proposed amendments, the non-Muslim family, including the parents of the deceased, may now inherit matrimonial assets.
Finally, S95 is to be amended to ensure that parents continue to maintain their children even after the children attain the age of 18 years if they are pursuing further or higher education or training. Former wives and children will no longer have to fear that the children’s education may be interrupted.
JAG hopes that these proposed amendments will be passed at the next Parliamentary sitting in March 2017. Nation building requires national unity: it is more than timely to close the ugly chapter in Malaysia’s history where children may be converted to Islam without the knowledge or consent of both parents, and fathers may refuse to maintain their children after they attain the age of 18 years even if they were still studying.
22 November 2016
Joint Action Group for Gender Equality:
1. Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (EMPOWER)