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Lawyers urge Mahathir to ban students' religious conversion
Published on: Friday, January 17, 2020
By: David Thien
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KOTA KINABALU: Non-Muslim lawyers feel it is time for the Education Ministry, now that it is under Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, to issue a directive once and for all forbidding the conversion of students to whatever religion in schools.

A Sabahan lawyer who has been engaged to handle the latest alleged conversion of a Christian student to Islam said she was also contacted by Catholic lawyers in peninsula and Sarawak, who were concerned about the recurrences of such incidents.

“This is not the first reported case,” said Priscilla Ruth Marcus, who has been engaged by the parents of the boy in Kota Marudu in the latest incident, to refer the matter to the courts. 

Parents Vilbon bin Madilan and Wastinah Mangis have decided to sue the relevant authorities over the conversion of their son, the eldest in a family of five, by an Ustaz posted to the school.

“My clients’ instruction is to challenge the validity of the conversion of their son. He is still a minor,” Priscilla said.

“The parents were unaware of the conversion. They were shattered when they found out. In the past, two teachers from the peninsula in SMK Lutong in Miri, Sarawak, converted a 13-year-old student to Islam.

“The Education Ministry acted to end the episode as any attempt to convert any child below 18 years to whatever religion without the parents’ consent is illegal.

“The girl involved came from a Christian family which had angered the predominantly Christian community in Sarawak.”

A similar controversy arose in SMK Kinarut in Sabah when a 16-year-old schoolgirl reportedly was converted to Islam.

The then Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Jalaluddin Abdul Rahman said their inquiry showed the girl was still a Christian and had not converted although she practised the Islamic ways.

Her father, Jilius Yapoo, correctly insisted that his daughter remained a Christian and can only decide on her own religion after she turns 18. 

The cases appear to reinforce fears among parents of the rural Christian communities in both Sabah and Sarawak over what might happen if they send their children to schools with hostel facilities. Away from home, the parents need to be reassured that their children are going for an education and not a new religion.

While it may be natural for teachers, especially those who are religious, to share their beliefs with their students, the parents viewed this is as a form of indoctrination.

They said the teachers’ responsibility is to teach, and in the case of the hostel students, to also care for their well-being as these young students were away from home.

The children are still considered minors and the law is very clear that their religion is determined by their parents until they turn 18. It is also a violation of the Child Protection Act.



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