By JULIA ZAPPEI
2009-04-20 01:52 PM
The conversion of children has been the subject of growing legal challenges by non-Muslims who say they face discrimination by Muslims who comprise nearly two-thirds of Malaysia's population and dominate the government.
M. Indira Gandhi, a 34-year-old ethnic Indian kindergarten teacher, plans to file a civil suit to contest her estranged husband's conversion of their children to Islam earlier this month without her consent, said her lawyer A. Sivanesan.
She will also seek custody of the children, aged between 1 and 12, after the Islamic Shariah court in northern Perak state awarded custody to her husband, K. Patmanathan, following his conversion to Islam in March, the lawyer said.
Malaysia has a two-tier court system for family matters _ secular courts for non-Muslims, Shariah courts for Muslims. Minority Hindu, Christian, and Buddhist followers often complain that in disputes involving Muslims, the Shariah courts get jurisdiction and often rule against them.
Perak Islamic authorities could not immediately be reached for comment on Gandhi's case.
A. Vaithilingam, president of the Malaysia Hindu Sangam group, called for an immediate halt to conversions of minors under 18 without the consent of both parents.
"The Shariah court is supposed to be a court of justice but within a few minutes they decided the three children are all Muslims," Vaithilingam said.
He said the civil court should have the final say since Gandhi was married under civil law.
The government has repeatedly pledged to resolve legal uncertainties over interfaith spats, but no clear solution has been achieved despite a growing number of cases in recent years. Several government ministers, including Muslims and non-Muslims, have set up a panel to look into Gandhi's case.
In the most high-profile case in 2007, a Hindu woman failed to persuade the civil court to bar her husband, who had embraced Islam, from converting their sons.