Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)
Letter to the editor
10 April 2014
Photo source: The Malay Mail Online
Two days ago, we were elated by the news that S. Deepa, a client of Women’s Aid Organisation, was awarded custody of her two children, now aged 6 and 9, by the High Court. Justice was served – or so we thought. Just one day later, things took a turn for the worse.
Enforce the two court orders – reunite mother and son
Deepa has gone through a lot. She survived domestic abuse by her ex-husband. In April last year, her children were converted to Islam unilaterally by her ex-husband without her knowledge or consent. Her children were taken away from her.
To claim her rights, Deepa turned to the justice system. She obtained an interim protection order (IPO) to protect herself from further abuse, and she went to the courts to obtain custody of her children. And despite the injustices she faced, she never asked that the father not be allowed to see the children.
Yesterday, one day after Deepa won custody of her children, the ex-husband, assisted by an unknown man, reportedly violently abducted the son from Deepa’s home.
By acting violently towards Deepa, the ex-husband had breached the interim protection order (IPO). By abducting the son, the ex-husband had breached the High Court custody order. Two court orders have been breached, which warrant his immediate arrest.
Yet now, a day later, Deepa’s son has still not been returned to her, and no action has been taken against the ex-husband. We have been informed that the police are still awaiting instructions from the deputy public prosecutor before making any arrests or retrieving the child.
Amend family laws – prevent future injustices
None of this should have happened in the first place. When the ex-husband unilaterally converted his children to Islam, he was gaming the system. He created an unfair advantage for himself, and obtained custody of the children in the Syariah courts, where Deepa had no chance to tell her side of the story.
We’ve seen this happen before, with S. Shamala, R. Subashini, and Indira Gandhi. And though we have seen some positive High Court judgments, we need to rectify our laws to fill all gaps and to make absolutely clear that the rights of the non-converting spouse must be upheld.
The Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act must be amended, including to spell out that the consent of both parents are needed to convert the religion of their children, and that when a spouse converts, the non-converting spouse must be notified about the conversion and its legal implications.
Deepa had faith in the system. We hope that the system lives up to her faith by ensuring she is reunited with her son immediately. And if women are to have faith in the system in the future, we must ensure that our laws ensure their rights are upheld.
For more information
Yu Ren Chung
010 225 7971