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Ordeal of abuse survivor sheds light on Malaysia’s ‘unilateral conversions’

#Ordeal #abuse #survivor #sheds #light #Malaysias #unilateral #conversions

Malaysian woman Loh Siew Hong says her husband brutally abused her, hitting her on the head and breaking her ankle before running away with their children and converting her to Islam.

After a long legal battle, Loh was finally reunited with her 14-year-old twin daughters and 11-year-old son in February when a court ruled in her favour.

But the ordeal has taken a heavy toll.

“It was torture for me,” the 35-year-old told the AFP news agency about the long separation from her children.

“I used to wonder if my kids were getting enough food and enough sleep. I used to worry if my ex-husband would beat and torture her like he used to do to me.”

It is the latest case in multi-ethnic Malaysia of so-called “unilateral conversion” to Islam – a parent converting a child’s religion without the other’s permission.

The issue has become yet another battleground between increasingly vocal Islamist hardliners and those who want to defend the rights of minorities.

The Southeast Asian country of 32 million people is a kaleidoscope of different religious and ethnic groups.

Ethnic Malay Muslims make up more than 60 percent of the population, while a quarter are ethnic Chinese. There are sizeable minorities of ethnic Indians and various indigenous groups.

While communities live in harmony for the most part, critics say decades of pro-Malay politics have strained ties, with the country’s traditionally moderate version of Islam losing ground to creeping radicalization.

– ‘Why do they do that?’ –

In 2018, the issue of lopsided conversions seemed settled when Malaysia’s top court delivered a landmark ruling.

The federal court ruled that both parents must consent to the religious conversion of a minor and sided with Hindu woman M. Indira Gandhi against her ex-husband, who converted their three children without informing them.

But cases like Loh’s keep cropping up, and critics say authorities are sometimes reluctant to step in for fear of being seen as “un-Islamic”.

Human rights groups say most cases of unilateral conversion go unreported and only come to light when a parent files a legal challenge.

Loh said those who sided with her ex-husband in converting the children from Hinduism to Islam and tried to keep her separate did not respect the Supreme Court’s decision.

“They still put obstacles in my way – why are they doing that?” she asked. “They prevent their children from being with their mother.”

Loh comes from a mixed background with an ethnic Chinese father and an ethnic Indian mother.

Raised on her mother’s side in her family, she followed the Hindu faith and became fluent in the Tamil language.

She met her future husband during her training as a cook.

But Loh – who ran a successful takeaway business – said he started using drugs, subjecting her to a litany of abuse.

After a particularly violent episode in 2019, she required hospital treatment.

In a police report filed by Loh, she said her husband “hit my left leg with a hammer and fractured the leg. He also hit my head with an iron and caused injuries.”

A hospital report included Loh’s allegations of abuse and confirmed she was being treated for a broken ankle.

While she was recovering from her injuries, Loh claims her husband took the children with him.

The couple divorced, but the husband ignored court orders to return the children to her.

He later converted to Islam and had the children converted, according to Loh and her lawyers.

Shortly after, he was jailed for drug-related offenses, but before he was jailed, he placed the children in the care of an Islamic organization, leaving Loh with an uphill battle to get them back.

– ‘Power and Control’ –

When she went to the police, “the first question was how you’re going to take care of your converted children,” Loh said.

With the help of rights groups and lawyers, she was finally reunited with her children in February when the Kuala Lumpur High Court ruled in her favour.

Her story is reminiscent of other cases where the woman was allegedly abused before her children were converted.

Rights groups told AFP that while there isn’t enough evidence to establish a definitive link, abusive or controlling spouses often play a role in unilateral commutation cases.

“What’s obvious is the deprivation of a parent’s rights when something like this happens,” said Lilian Kok of the All Women’s Action Society.

“It’s about power and control.”

Loh’s story is not over yet, her lawyers challenged the children’s conversion to Islam in court, arguing it was unconstitutional.

For some conservative Muslims, however, once the youth convert, there is no turning back.

The influential Pan-Malaysia Islamic Party – an Islamist group that is part of the national government – urged Loh not to contest the conversion.

“If we can meet them, we will persuade them to allow the children to practice Islam,” the group’s information chief, Khairil Nizam Khirudin, told AFP.

Loh’s attorney, A. Srimurugan, said the best way to stop such conversions is for the national government to ban the practice rather than let the courts deal with it.

But he doubted the government would do so, for fear of losing the support of some Muslims.

“In cases like this, the ultimate victims are the children,” he said.

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#Ordeal #abuse #survivor #sheds #light #Malaysias #unilateral #conversions

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