Interfaith group objects to secrecy on marriage law changes

By Minderjeet Kaur

MCCBCHST ( Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism) criticises Minister in the PM's Dept Joseph Kurup for saying group cannot be consulted over proposed amendments because it is confidential.

An interfaith group is shocked to hear that the proposed amendments to marriage laws in the country are to be kept a secret, thereby resulting in its members not being invited to peruse the draft proposal.

Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) Honorary Secretary Prematilaka Serisena said it was only right to show the council the draft proposal for the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976 as it would affect spouses and children when a partner converts to Islam.

“We need to look at the way the draft has been worded because even the words ‘may’ and ‘shall’ in a sentence makes a difference because ‘shall’ means compulsory while if the sentence uses the word ‘may’, it means it is voluntary,” he said responding to Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Joseph Kurup, who said the government’s draft amendments were confidential

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Kurup had said on Thursday that the council was not invited for a dialogue on the proposed drafts. He added that the government has gathered the council’s views and the issues brought up by the council will be discussed further.

However, Prematilaka said the minister could not use the excuse of maintaining the confidentiality of the draft proposal as a reason for not inviting the council. “It is ridiculous. We need to look at the draft laws on custody rights and maintenance among others,” he said.

Last week, the council proposed four changes to the Act. The first two were to ensure the civil courts had the jurisdiction to grant a divorce in a civil marriage.

It also wanted to amend the word “parent” in Article 12 (4) of the Federal Constitution to “parents” so that a child’s conversion has the consent of both parents, instead of just one.

MCCBCHST also wants the civil courts, and not the Islamic courts, to be given preference during a petition for divorce in civil marriages. Furthermore, the council wants the amendments to make it compulsory for the spouse to give seven days’ notice before any conversion takes place.

Last month, Prime Minister Najib Razak announced that the government would amend the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976 with immediate effect.

The amendments to the act would provide an opportunity for both partners to resolve the issue of civil marriage in the civil courts. Najib also said it would remove the clash between the civil court and shariah court, arising from conversion to Islam by one of the spouses. Legislative gaps and duplication of provisions within the existing law may also be resolved.


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