Press Statement by Dato’ Chang Ko Youn Gerakan Deputy President and Central Legal and Human Rights Bureau Chairman Gerakan: A Family Dispute Must Not Turn into a National Issue

Gerakan Deputy President and Central Legal and Human Rights Bureau Chairman, Dato’ Chang Ko Youn today in a statement lamented on how private family disputes like the one involving Indira Gandhi and her estranged husband A. Patmanathan @ Mohd. Ridzuan Abdullah, are being turned into a national issue due to the absence of adequate legal avenues to deal with problems of conversion and custody of the children thereafter.

“I fully sympathise with Indira Gandhi and the situation she finds herself in, and the fact she has been separated from her 11 month baby makes it more wrenching. I believe it is in the best interests of such a young child to be with her mother who can best cater to her needs,” Chang said.

Chang also reminded all parties to adopt a fair and open-minded approach when dealing with such cases and do not let emotions cloud our ability to discern between what is right and wrong. He said that a comprehensive solution must be achieved to deal with such cases.

“Unfortunately, this is not the first time we have had such a case. While it is the constitutional and moral right of a person to choose his religion, the obligations he has prior to the conversion must not be allowed to lapse, and fulfilling them is imperative. We cannot use legal avenues to escape from legal obligations because it would contravene the principles of natural justice. Furthermore, religions too must be shielded from questionable conversions.” Chang added.

Chang said Gerakan was fully supportive of Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department’s announcement that the cabinet has decided that if one parent converts, the religion of the children shall remain as the common religion of the marriage, and that the children can only be converted if both parents agree.

“I understand that some parties have rationalized that the religion of the children must follow the religion of their father. I can only say that is an archaic way of looking at things. Gender equality has striven to render women equal rights, and we will be doing a great disservice to those brave women who have long fought for fairness and equality by ignoring their struggle,” Chang said.

Chang also urged all parties to remain calm and not use this issue to garner political mileage. He said such issues are nonetheless sensitive and must be dealt with in a matured and calm manner. He advised those opposing this decision to debate and discuss, reminding everyone that every problem can be solved through constructive discourse and mutual respect.

We must also congratulate the Prime Minister and the 4 ministers assigned to handle the issue for successfully coming out with one workable and fair solution. We urge the A-G Chamber to draft amendment to the relevant legislation as soon as possible to give effect to the cabinet’s directive and to prevent any irresponsible parties from exploiting the issue to the detriment of national unity and harmony..

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