Gerakan vows to continue striving to address unilateral conversion of minors Chai Ko Thing: LRA Bill should be allowed to serve its purpose while awaiting clarification on constitutional argument

Press statement by

Gerakan legal team spokesman

Chai Ko Thing

August 9, 2017



Gerakan legal team spokesman Chai Ko Thing said Gerakan legal team praises the amended version of the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) (Amendment) Bill 2016 [Act164] that would allow marriages where one partner has converted to Islam to be dissolved in the civil courts. He said Gerakan legal team welcomes the Bill to amend Act 164 and believes newly introduced Sections will effectively address interfaith divorces.

Chai said the Bill is a testament to government’s commitment to a pledge made in August 2016 by Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Najib Tun Razak to ensure the civil courts will have precedence in mediating divorce and child custody cases involving spouses who convert to Islam after marriage. He said the amendment to the marriage law particularly Section 3(3) would iron out the problem of overlapping jurisdiction between the civil and Syariah courts.

“We always maintain that if the marriage is contracted under civil law, then we should settle the divorce under civil law, it is to ensure fairness for all, while the interest and welfare of the child should be prioritised under all circumstances, it is pleasing to learn that these spirits are reflected in the Bill,” said Chai.

However, Chai said Gerakan legal team shares the disappointments over the exclusion of Section 88A which aims to resolve the longstanding issue of unilateral conversion of minors. He noted that the new Section 88A was deemed problematic by the Attorney-General (AG) and subsequently dropped as it will involve a constitutional argument over Article 12(4) of the Federal Constitution (FC) on the determination of the religion of a person under the age of eighteen years by his parent or guardian.

Chai said Gerakan legal team concurs with AG that the constitutional argument on whether the religion of a minor shall be decided by one or both parents should be addressed first before this Section 88A is included. He opined that the amended version of the LRA Bill should be allowed to serve its purpose despite the exclusion of Section 88A. It is because amendments to the LRA will address some of the concerns affecting the public, particularly interfaith divorces while awaiting further clarification on the constitutional argument regarding Article 12(4) of the FC.

“Gerakan has always been committed to seeking a permanent solution to the persisting issue of unilateral conversion of minors, we had previously called on the government to streamline both English and Malay versions of Article 12(4) in FC to allow both parents to determine the religion of a minor, existing laws contradict with the spirit and objective of the LRA Bill should also be reviewed, we remain firm and consistent on our calling and will strive for it,” said Chai.

Nevertheless, Chai said Gerakan believes the new version LRA Bill is the right step towards ensuring civil courts will have precedence in addressing interfaith divorces and thus addressing some of the longstanding issues affecting the society. He stressed the party is committed to the Malaysian cause and will continue to strive in addressing the issues of unilateral conversion of minors.

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