A recent amendment to Perlis’ state legislation to allow the conversion of a child by either parent has come under fire by many groups. According to some, the definition of the word “parent” should mean both mother and father. This would mean that article 12(4) of the Federal Constitution would have to be reviewed.
The article in particular uses the singular term parent rather than the plural form “parents”. The absence of one character in this situation means a lot. The implication is not limited to the meaning of the associated term. The effects are far and wide under these circumstances. Try to imagine a scenario where both parents differ on the religion of a child.
How will this dispute be resolved? Will the child grow up as a syncretist? Religious pluralism might be allowed in some religions but it is not tolerated in some others. Would this issue be solved in court? If both parents are required to decide, what would end this dichotomy?
If either parent parts from the child and decides on her religion, then it would be considered as unilateral conversion. How would that child be brought up in such conditions? We have heard a lot of commotion pertaining unilateral conversion to Islam. However, does that mean unilateral conversions to other religions do not happen?
What happens in the case of a single parent? As it is, one parent can determine the religion of a child under 18 years of age. Apart from the social issues that arise, there are issues regarding the constitutionality of this amendment. If a state legislation is in contradiction with the Federal Constitution, then the Federal Constitution prevails.
Some groups have condemned the amendment as being unconstitutional but have not been able to provide proof beyond their claims. The tabling of Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976 or otherwise known as Act 164 is yet to happen. Till then, the state assembly has the right to amend laws as they see fit, as long as these set of rules do not contravene the Federal Constitution.