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Joint Action Group: Press Statement on Shamala Case

Women’s rights groups disappointed by Federal Court’s lack of courage

In a statement issued today, on Human Rights Day, women’s rights groups expressed disappointment at the lack of courage displayed by the Federal Court as it neglects to resolve conversion issues. The recent majority decision by the Federal Court, which was in effect a decision to not make any decision, leaves Shamala and others, mainly women, in similar situations without clarity as to their legal rights.

In 2002, Shamala Sathiyaseelan approached women’s groups seeking help. Her husband had converted to Islam and had also converted their two children without Shamala’s knowledge, let alone her consent.

Eight years and many court hearings later, Shamala is still left in limbo.

On 12 November 2010, the Federal Court shirked its responsibility to execute justice by declining to answer constitutional questions relating to the validity of the unilateral conversion of children to Islam by a father. The Federal Court cited Shamala’s absence as the rationale for neglecting to answer the constitutional questions.

In past court decisions, Shamala’s equal rights as a parent were denied and she was told to raise her children in a religion that was not her own. She was understandably compelled by circumstances to flee the country with her children. The Federal Court did not give due regard to the circumstances that caused Shamala to flee and yet she had turned to this Court to resolve the vexed question that confronts her and many others.

Both international conventions and Malaysia’s domestic legislation concur that women and men must have equal rights to make decisions pertaining to their children. Section 5(1) of the Guardianship of Infants Act 1961 clearly states that both parents have equal rights with regard to matters relating to the upbringing of their children. And yet the courts continue to evade their duty to uphold the rights of women as equal guardians.

The Federal Court’s refusal to answer crucial and critical questions in this high profile case leaves us no closer to achieving clarity. In the meantime, an array of injustices against non-convert spouses continues to be perpetrated in light of this legal loophole.

Courage and political will from the structures of our democratic government – from parliament and the judiciary – are required at this time to affirm the equality of all Malaysians.


Press statement released by the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG), which comprises:

Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)
PO Box 493, Jalan Sultan, 46760 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Tel: 03 79575636 / 0636 Fax: 603 79563237 Email:

All Women’s Action Society (AWAM)
85 Jalan 21/1, Sea Park, 46300 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Tel: 03 78774221 Fax: 603 78743312 Email:

Women’s Centre for Change (WCC)
24-D Jalan Jones, 10250 Penang
Tel: 04 2280342 Fax: 604 2285784 Email:

Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (EMPOWER)
13 Lorong 4/48E, 46050 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Tel: 03 77844977 Fax: 603 77844978 Email:

Sisters in Islam (SIS)
7 Jalan 6/10, 46000 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Tel: 03 77856121 Fax: 603 77858737 Email:

Perak Women for Women Society
52 Jalan Sultan Azlan Shah, 31400 Ipoh
Tel/Fax: 05 5469715 Email:

Sabah Women’s Action Resource Group (SAWO)
Lot 23-3, Block C, Damai Point, 88300 Kota Kinabalu
Tel/Fax: 088 269291 Email:


This statement is also endorsed by:
Catholic Lawyers’ Society

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