Page last updated at 12:40 GMT, Monday, 3 May 2010 13:40 UK

Landmark custody battle in Malaysia court

By Jennifer Pak
BBC News, Kuala Lumpur


Malaysia's highest court has begun proceedings in a landmark inter-religious child custody battle.

An ethnic Indian couple are fighting each other for full custody of their two children.

The mother says the children have been secretly converted to Islam by the father without her knowledge.

Indian and Chinese minorities who say their rights are being eroded by rising Islamisation in Muslim-majority Malaysia are watching the case closely.

The Federal Court heard objections by lawyers representing the couple before adjourning for two weeks before hearing the case.

Flawed system

Malaysia's Federal Court is being asked to decide once and for all if one parent can convert the religion of their children without the other's consent.

The Indian couple were married in a Hindu ceremony in 1998. The husband converted to Islam in 2002 and then converted his two young sons.

Apart from the conversion issue, the two parents are also locked in a custody battle.

The country's Islamic court granted custody of the two children to their father, while the civil courts gave custody to the mother.

The case highlights conflicts within Malaysia's dual track justice system.

Islamic laws only apply to Muslims in personal matters. Non-Muslims are covered under civil laws.

Rights groups have criticised the Federal Court for delaying its decision in this landmark case.

They say overlaps between the two legal systems need to be addressed urgently.

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