Malaysian kids to be raised in parents’ religion at marriage

April 24th, 2009 - 12:31 pm ICT by IANS  

Kuala Lumpur, April 24 (IANS) The Malaysian government has decided that children should be raised in the religion which their parents had at the time of marriage, even if one of the parent later converts.
The decision by the cabinet Thursday emanates from the case of Indra Ghandhi, an ethnic Indian mother of three. She separated from her husband who embraced Islam, The Star newspaper said.

Conversions in multi-religious Malaysia have caused social strife and legal complications.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Nazri Abdul Aziz Thursday said a spouse who had converted to Islam would also have to fulfil his or her marriage responsibilities and sort out issues according to civil marriage laws.

“Religion should not be used as a tool to escape marriage responsibilities. Conversion is not grounds for automatic dissolution of a marriage,” he told the media.

“It was decided (by the cabinet) that conversion is not retrospective. Past acts should be resolved under the relevant civil laws.

“The cabinet feels there is constructive contract between the husband and wife as parties to the marriage that the children should be brought up in common religion at the time of marriage,” he said.

The minister said the cabinet instructed the attorney general to look at all relevant laws which need to be amended in line with the decision.

Aziz said the cabinet took the decision following Ghandhi’s case in which her three children aged one, 11 and 12 years were allegedly converted to Islam without her consent by her husband K. Patmanathan, now known as Mohammed Ridzuan Abdullah.

He allegedly used the children’s birth certificates to get them converted. The youngest child is said to be in the father’s custody.

The minister in charge of Islamic Affairs Maj Gen (Retd.) Jamil Khir Baharom would be meeting Patmanathan to settle the matter amicably in accordance with the cabinet’s decision.

“When the youngest child, who is still being breast-fed by the mother, is taken away from her, it is definitely traumatic for the mother.

“This is not about conversion but being humane,” he said, adding that the baby should be returned immediately to the mother.

Ghandhi was sceptical whether she would get relief and resolved to fight on in the court for the children’s custody. She wanted them to be declared Hindus.

Tamil Hindus form a bulk of the two million-plus ethnic Indian community that settled here during the British era.

They form eight percent of Malaysia’s multi-ethnic 28 million population.

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