Kuala Lumpur: Malaysian groups on Friday slammed an Islamic law enabling one parent to give consent for the religious conversion of a child, a contentious issue in the Muslim-majority country.
In 2009, the government said existing legislation would be amended so that children`s conversion required the consent of both parents.
But amendments put forward in parliament this week retain a provision that a minor below 18 can convert to Islam if "his parent or guardian" consents.
The Malay-language text of the new law says the consent of "mother or father or guardian" is required.
Interfaith group Malaysian Consultative Council Of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism said in a statement that the Federal Territories Bill which was effective for the capital Kuala Lumpur was unconstitutional and should be withdrawn.
"Any conversion of a minor by a single parent will cause serious injustice to the non-converting parent and the children of the marriage," it said. "Such conversions are not only unconstitutional but are morally and ethically wrong."
The Malaysian Bar Council also said that "unilateral conversion of minor children to any religion by a parent, without the consent of the non-converting parent, is contrary to our constitutional scheme".
Government officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
It was not clear why the government has proposed the amended bill now, but lawyers said it could be part of a general overhaul of the decades-old law.
Parliament still has to approve the new law, but Prime Minister Najib Razak`s coalition has the majority and legal amendments proposed by the government usually pass.
Conversion is a sensitive issue in Malaysia, where around 60 percent of 28 million people are Muslim Malays, with sizeable non-Muslim ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities.
Conversions of children and "body-snatching" cases -- where Islamic authorities tussle with families over the remains of people whose religion is disputed -- have raised tensions in past years.
Under Sharia law, a non-Muslim parent cannot share custody of converted children.
Non-Muslims also complain that they do not get a fair hearing when such cases end up in the religious courts set up to administer civil matters for Muslims.