CLS Press Statement: Conversion Of Minor Unconstitutional

The Catholic Lawyers’ Society, Kuala Lumpur lauds the courageous decision of the High Court in Ipoh, Perak in quashing the conversion certificates of three minor children converted by their father without the consent of the mother.

Children are innocent and must be protected against harm and wrongdoing.

Parents play a vital role in ensuring that the rights of their children are not violated and trampled upon.

Unfortunately, some parents abuse and deprive their children of their rights because of selfish reasons.

In domestic quarrels or misunderstandings, children are often used by one parent to punish the other or “to teach the other a lesson”. Upon valid conversion of the minor children to Islam, the non-Muslim parent usually loses his/her rights over the children. In some cases, children are taken away to be brought up by Muslim relatives. Families are broken. Many lives are scarred.

One may use conversion to Islam get out of a civil marriage. Conversion affects more than one religion and therefore is a very sensitive matter. To maintain harmony and peace whilst combating the rights of individual religions can be a sticky affair. A proper balance must be reached to ensure all faiths are protected.

In the Ipoh High Court case, the estranged husband of M. Indira Gandhi, K. Patmanathan converted to Islam on March 11, 2009 and became known as Mohd Ridzuan Abdullah. On April 4, 2009 Mohd Ridzuan converted his three children Tevi Darsiny, (then 12 years old), Karan Dinish, (11 years old), and Prasana Diksa, (1 year old), to Islam in their absence and that of the mother.

Ms Gandhi then applied to court for judicial review to quash the conversion certificates issued by the religious body. In the meantime, Ms Gandhi was granted custody of all three children. The last child has not been returned to her despite the custody order.

On July 25, 2013, in a landmark decision, the Ipoh High Court quashed the certificates of conversion of the three children. The High Court also held that it had the power to decide on matters related to conversion.

Judicial Commissioner Lee Swee Seng ruled that the certificates were null and void because they were unconstitutional citing Articles 3, 5 and 11 of the Federal Constitution and held that it was against natural justice because the certificates were issued in the absence of the children and the mother.

It is reported that in granting the order to nullify the conversion certificates, he said: “This is not a victory for anyone but for all to be living in peace, and our differences need not divide us”.

“It is also a struggle for all to live in a diversified country peacefully to give space to one another to practise his or her religion.

“Regardless of our faiths, we must have the highest regard for one another.”

It is hoped that the courts will continue to make fair and bold decisions for the sake of peace and harmony in this multi-racial and multi-religious nation.

Viola De Cruz
Catholic Lawyers’ Society, Kuala Lumpur

Dated 26th July 2013

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