Asia & Australia

January 30, 2018

Unilateral conversions of minors annulled: Malaysia Top Court


On January 29, the unilateral conversion of a Hindu woman, M. Indira Gandhi, whose ex –husband converted three children to Islam without their mother's consent; requiring the permits of both parents to change a minor's religion was unanimously voided by the Federal Court of Malaysia.

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 kidnapped by the father when she was 11 months old and probably remains in his custody.

She won custody of the three children and challenged their conversions in civil courts in Malaysia's dual-court system. A lower court annulled them, but the Court of Appeal overturned the ruling, saying civil courts had no jurisdiction over Islamic conversions. The ruling was appealed to the nation's highest court.

"This is a landmark decision and a victory for all Malaysians," said M. Kulasegaran, Gandhi's lawyer.

Large Chinese and Indian minorities, who have been observing the case, fear that their rights are increasingly being trampled by Islamic jurisprudence.

The five-member panel in the Federal Court found the children's conversions unlawful because they were done without Gandhi's consent. 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.

Gandhi said she was thankful for the decision and there is "no more excuse" for police not to find her former husband, who has refused to comply with court rulings to hand her youngest daughter back to her. He has gone missing and police earlier said they couldn't act on the civil court's order.

"But my daughter is still missing. I want to see her. I really need to hold her. It has been nine years. When is she going to come back?" she said.

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