Malaysia court quashes Hindu kids' conversion to Islam

Kuala Lumpur - A Malaysian court on Thursday ruled against the 2009 conversion of three Hindu children to Islam without their mother's knowledge, a verdict welcomed by non-Muslim groups.

A high court in the northern city of Ipoh declared the conversion of Indira Gandhi's children, now aged five, 15 and 16, by their father to be unconstitutional, said Indira's lawyer K. Shanmuga.

The judge ruled that the father had failed to take the mother and children to Islamic authorities for their consent to the conversion, in a rare verdict in the multiracial but Muslim-majority nation, Shanmuga said.

"It is the first time ever that a child's conversion certificate has been quashed by a high court," he told AFP.

Indira, a kindergarten teacher in her late 30s, faced losing custody of her children after her husband converted himself and them without her knowledge.

Under Malaysian sharia law, which governs civil matters for Muslims, a non-Muslim parent cannot share custody of converted children.

Indira, a Hindu, got a 2010 high court verdict to award her custody. But her husband went into hiding with their youngest daughter and the conversion remained in dispute.

Earlier this month Malaysia withdrew an Islamic law which allows one parent to give consent for a child's conversion, after an outcry.

Opponents said it discriminated against minorities despite government promises to address their grievances.

Religious groups welcomed Thursday's verdict.

"We are very happy about that decision. But it must be accepted by all the Islamic and other government agencies," said Mohan Shan, an official with the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism.

Conversions of children and "body-snatching" cases -- in which Islamic authorities tussle with families over the remains of people whose religion is disputed -- have previously raised tensions.

More than 60 percent of Malaysia's 28 million people are Muslim ethnic Malays, but it also has sizeable Chinese and Indian minorities who are non-Muslims.