tuesday, 30 january of 2018

Malaysia high court annuls unilateral conversion of minors to Islam

The Federal Court of Malaysia on Monday unanimously voided the unilateral conversion of three children to Islam without their mother's consent, requiring the consent of both parents to change a minor's religion.

The decision ends a near decade-long legal battle in which a father converted three children to Islam, a few weeks after he had done so himself, and without their mother's consent in March 2009. The two elder children have remained with their mother, who had won custody of all three children in civil court and was notified of the conversions via mail, while the youngest child was abducted by the father from the family home when she was 11 months old and presumably remains in his custody.

The legality of the conversions was brought in civil court under Malaysia's dual-court system, which bifurcates legal issues governed under Islamic law, known and spelled as Syariah law in Malaysia, and civil law which applies to all non-Muslims. After losing the initial civil case the father appealed the decision and won, claiming that jurisdiction should be reserved for the Syriah courts in this matter. Typically, civil courts in the country will defer to Syriah courts when jurisdictional disputes arise.

In its ruling, the Federal Court concluded that jurisdiction properly resided in the civil court and that Article 12(4) of Malaysia's Federal Constitution, which states "the region of a person under the age of eighteen shall be decided by his parent or guardian", requires the consent of both parents to change a minor's religion.

After 14 months of deliberation, the Federal Court issued its decision in a 99 page judgment which has not yet been made publicly available. It remains to be seen how big of an impact this decision will have on Malaysia's dual-court system.

(Published by Jurist - January 29, 2018)

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