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Anti-conversion Laws

Volume 455: debated on Monday 8 January 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment she has made of the impact of anti-conversion laws in (a) Malaysia, (b) Indonesia, (c) Pakistan and (d) India; and what assessment she has made of the recent development of women's rights in each of these countries. (109089)

The Malaysian Federal Constitution guarantees freedom of religion. However, Muslims are subject to Shari'a law with respect to family matters which includes apostasy. Muslims can only change their religion with the permission of a Shari'a Court who will often not allow this, and may order periods of rehabilitation and other penalties for those who attempt to do it. In addition, the application of Shari'a is a state, rather than federal matter and so varies around the country—the State of Negeri Sembilan allows apostasy. This complicated issue impacts on a minority of people who wish to leave Islam—a recent survey by an academic found that there were only 100 applications to the Shari'a Courts to apostatise between 1994-2003. The majority of applicants are from people who had previously converted to Islam for the purpose of marriage.

There are no anti-conversion laws in Indonesian civil law. The constitution of Indonesia guarantees freedom of religion.

There are anti-conversion laws in India. However, to date, nobody has raised with us specific cases of abuse, where anti-conversion laws have been used to prevent someone from willingly changing their religion.

There is no anti-conversion legislation in Pakistan, although converts from Islam to other religions are subject to various social pressures and harassment and the blasphemy laws are often abused in this context.

The Government, along with our EU partners, follow closely developments in states where anti-conversion laws exist. We condemn all instances where individuals are persecuted because of their faith or belief, wherever they happen and whatever the religion of the individual or group concerned. We urge all states to pursue laws and practices which foster tolerance and mutual respect and to protect religious minorities from discrimination.

The Malaysian Federal Constitution was amended in 2001 to provide against discrimination on grounds of gender.

The Malaysian Government ratified Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1995 and presented their first report to the CEDAW committee earlier this year. There are concerns that the rights of women in divorce and inheritance are not equal to those of men in the Shari'a Courts. There are also concerns that the proposed new Islamic Family Law Act will do little to alleviate this, with a widespread perception that it is even more detrimental to the status of Muslim women than existing laws, including making polygamy easier. However, the Government are re-examining the bill following concerns by non-governmental organisations and are consulting women's groups on the revision.

The Indonesian Government, through the Ministry of Women's Affairs, are actively working to increase the participation of women. In general, women play a significant and growing role in Indonesian society.

In India, there is increasing awareness of women's rights issues. The Government are working with a number of organisations, including the National Commission for Women, to highlight and address these issues. One example includes a sponsored visit to the UK earlier this year by the chairperson of the National Commission for Women.

We welcome the passing of the Women's Protection Bill in Pakistan, which marks a significant step forward on the “enlightened moderation” agenda. We will follow with interest the progress of further proposed reforms to improve women's rights.