Religious freedom civil society disappointed over the withdrawal of Section 88A of the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Bill

Sarawak Freedom of Religion (SAFRE) civil society president Mark Muram Sumon -

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KUCHING: Civil society group, Sarawak Freedom of Religion (SAFRE) is disappointed over the federal government’s decision to withdraw section 88A of Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) (Amendment) Bill 2017.

Its president Mark Muram Sumon said today non- Muslims have been fighting for years to ban unilateral child conversion by either parent.

“This section 88A would have given power for the court to make an order for child custody,” he said, adding that in the event that either parents convert to Islam, the religion of the children should remain the same, unless both parents agree to the conversion of their children.

He said SAFRE argues that religion is a constitutional right of a person, and also include the liberty to leave the faith according Articles 11(1) of the Federal Constitution.

The Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) (Amendment) Bill 2017, aimed to amend the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976 or (Act 164), was passed in parliament at 12.40am this morning, after an hour of debate.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Departmen Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said, in winding up the debate, said the amendment aimed to provide room for couples who married and had converted to Islam or one of them who is still a Muslim to file a petition for the dissolution of the marriage in the civil court.

She said it was to avoid action by either the husband or wife who did not want to terminate the marriage but did not execute any responsibility towards the spouse, their children or properties.

The Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) (Amendment) Bill 2017 was tabled Tuesday, minus section 88A from the 2016 Bill that would have banned the unilateral conversion of a child to Islam.

The revised Bill drew criticism from several groups, including those from within the ruling Barisan Nasional, which argued that Section 88A was the key reason to amend the 1976 Act.

However, other proposed amendments in the marriage Bill would still allow a Muslim convert in a civil marriage to file for divorce after the religious conversion.

It also enables the surviving spouse, children and parents of the Muslim convert, who dies before the divorce goes through, to claim matrimonial assets.

“I am not married yet and I am also angry, for running away, not wanting to pay maintenance, using Islam when Islam is a responsible religion, ” she said.

Azalina said the amendment did not deny the rights of a person in the Syariah Court, instead it encourages a person to be more responsible in divorcing the spouse in the Civil Court.

Prior to this, Azalina in a statement, said the amendment was also made to ensure no party challenge the legality of the law under Clause (1) Article 4 of the Federal Constitution.

“The government is serious in making an amendment to this law to maintain the harmony of the diverse races and religions in the country besides ensuring that claims such as custody and maintenance of the children up to the highest level of education are sustained and guaranteed,” she said. –