Current laws allow for uniteral conversion of kids

KUALA LUMPUR - Another controversy involving religion is brewing after Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom claimed current laws allowed unilateral conversion of minors into Islam.

Jamil Khir, who is in charge of Islamic affairs, said the Government had no plans to amend any law over the matter.

He said Article 12(4) of the Federal Constitution provided that either the father, mother or guardian could determine the religion of a child who is below the age of 18.

Earlier in the week, Jamil Khir's statement that Malaysia is not a secular state sparked off debate among groups, individuals and lawmakers on the country's actual status. Jamil Khir claimed the country was not secular as Malaysia was historically set up based on an Islamic Malay Sultanate government.

Yesterday, Jamil Khir cited the case of Shamala Sathiyaseelam vs Dr Jeyaganesh Mogarajah, where the Federal Court determined the consent of either parent was sufficient for conversion.

"Based on the judgment in this (2004) case, the agreement is that either party (parent) suffices in determining the religion of a child as the word used in Article 12(4) is 'parent or guardian', not 'parents or guardian'," he said.

"Therefore, all parties are subjected to the existing laws as the Government has not made any amendments to the provisions," Jamil Khir said in a written reply to M. Kulasegaran (DAP - Ipoh Barat),

Kulasegaran, refering to a 2009 Cabinet decision against conversion of minors if the parents do not agree, had asked the minister when the Government planned to make changes to implement that decision.

Speaking at a press conference later, Kulasegaran questioned if the Government had made a U-turn on the matter.

He said the answer given to him by Jamil Khir contradicted a reply that the minister himself had given to Gobind Singh Deo (DAP - Puchong), who had previously asked a similar question in Parliament.

Kulasegaran claimed Jamil Khir's reply to his party colleague on June 11 had stated the government was still studying a mechanism to solve issues pertaining to unilateral conversion. He urged Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak to clarify the Cabinet's position.