LRA Bill, minus Clause 88A, passed at midnight

KUALA LUMPUR: The Dewan Rakyat last night passed the  Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) (Amendment) Bill 2017 aimed to amend the  Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976 or (Act 164).

The decision was announced by Dewan Rakyat deputy speaker Ronald Kiandee at about 12.40am after the third reading of the bill was made by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Azalina Othman Said and seconded by Deputy Natural Resources and Environment Minister Hamim Samuri.

Earlier the bill was tabled by Azalina for the second reading and debated by the members of parliament for over three hours and the winding up by Azalina for an hour.

In winding up the debate, Azalina said the amendment aimed to provide room for couples who married and had converted to Islam or one of them who is still a Muslim to file a petition for the dissolution of the marriage in the civil court.

She said it was to avoid action by either the husband or wife who did not want to terminate the marriage but did not execute any responsibility towards the spouse, their children or properties.

“It means that he has a choice, a person who converts to Islam is bound by the Islamic family law, that is his right but it is a question of the family he left behind.

“I am not married yet and I am also angry, for running away, not wanting to pay maintenance, using Islam when Islam is a responsible religion,” she said.

Azalina said the amendment did not deny the rights of a person in the Shariah Court, instead it encourages a person to be more responsible in divorcing the spouse in the Civil Court.

Prior to this, Azalina in a statement, said the amendment was also made to ensure no party challenge the legality of the law under Clause (1) Article 4 of the Federal Constitution.

“The government is serious in making an amendment to this law to maintain the harmony of the diverse races and religions in the country besides ensuring that claims such as custody and maintenance of the children up to  the highest level of education are sustained and guaranteed.

Debate over Clause 88A

Earlier, during the debate, DAP’s Ipoh Barat MP M Kula Segaran urged the government to re-insert Clause 88A into the bill.

Clause 88A states that the religion of a child which is a product of the marriage “shall remain as the religion of the parties to the marriage prior to the conversion”.

The clause also provides that the child can, after turning 18 and with the consent of both parents, convert to Islam.

While delivering his argument, Kula accused the government of failing to “keep its promise made in 2009”.

Azalina, however, explained that Clause 88A would not solve the issue, and more in-depth discussions were needed in order to find a more comprehensive solution.

“I don’t believe Section 88A would solve the conversion issue. This needs further and deeper discussions.

“But this does not mean it is the end of the story,” Azalina said.