In Malaysia, more Muslim parents are turning to abducting children in custody wars, SIS data shows

KUALA LUMPUR, July 24 — Muslim parents in Malaysia are more concerned about their child being abducted and taken by another parent in 2021 and 2022 compared to previous years, according to the latest data from Sisters in Islam (SIS).

In its 2022 report on its free legal advice service Telenisa on Islamic family law, SIS said Muslim parents seeking help with child custody issues commonly cite custody disputes in court, visitation rights and child abduction.

But among parents facing child custody issues, the SIS said the percentage citing custody disputes dropped sharply from 52 percent in 2020 to just one percent in 2021 and zero percent in 2022.

Instead, the percentage of parents who cited child abduction issues increased from nine percent in 2020 to 29 percent (2021) and to 24 percent (2022).

Even in recent years, lower percentages of child abduction issues were also recorded at 14.7 percent (2017), 11 percent (2018), and 10 percent (2019), according to Telenisa records.

This means that concerns about child abduction in 2021 and 2022 will be the highest in these six years.

Based on data for the years 2020 to 2022, SIS executive director Rozana Isa said parents “risk taking a more desperate approach, eventually getting involved in violating rights and the law”.

“The authorities must handle this phenomenon equipped with more awareness and wisdom about why parents make decisions. The most appropriate actions must be identified to ensure that the child’s welfare is protected. It is always the child’s welfare and rights that will be affected in the long run,” he said in the Telenisa Statistics and Findings 2022 report released on June 22.

What is child abduction and why do parents do it?

In a 2022 Telenisa report, it described child abduction as the removal of a child with the intention of separating them from either the mother or father who has custody of the child.

Telenisa said that the incidence of parents abducting their own children in other countries is increasing.

Apart from the increased risk of parents abducting their own children when there is a custody dispute, SIS said other possible reasons are: domestic violence; parental dissatisfaction with the court’s decision on child custody; the other parent has threatened to run away from the child; the subsequent response due to threats by the other parent; or the custody order of another country is uncertain.

SIS said the parent with custody of the child should make a police report as soon as possible, if there is a possibility that the other parent has abducted the child.

“Police will attempt to locate and rescue the child, including arresting the abductor,” it said in its 2022 report.

In previous teletening reports, the change in annual trends in the basic concerns of parents in child conservation issues may have been caused by a variety of factors, such as more misunderstandings in the child’s custody in 2020 due to the Interstate travel ban during Covid-19 Pandemya prevents parent with the right to visit their children and also reluctance to visit their children and also reluctance to their children-1 visit-1-Visit-1 9.

Regarding the alarming increase in child abduction issues from nine percent in 2020 to 29 percent in 2021, SIS previously said “many parents are desperate for immediate action when it comes to their children” due to the financial burden and time constraints to bring custody disputes to court.

“They often take matters into their own hands by abducting their own child and completely separating them from the other parent. Desperation like this affects visitation by cutting off communication between the child and the opposing parent,” the SIS said in its report in 2021 Telenisa, adding that such behavior seriously affects the upbringing and emotional development of the child.

“Shared parenting must be learned and understood by both parents to prevent children from becoming victims of the unresolved issues of adults,” SIS said.

In its 2017 and 2018 Telenisa report, SIS observed that custody disputes “make things worse” with some parents ending up abducting the child from the custodial parent, adding that they either abducted the children when they were at school or did not send the children home to caregivers after their time with the children.

In the 2022 report, SIS said that child abduction affects not only the parent who is suddenly left behind, but more so the child who is removed from their home and forced to contact their family and friends.  — Photo by Yusof Mat Isa

In the 2022 report, SIS said that child abduction affects not only the parent who is suddenly left behind, but more so the child who is removed from their home and forced to contact their family and friends. — Photo by Yusof Mat Isa

How will the abducted child be affected?

In the 2022 report, SIS said that child abduction affects not only the parent who is suddenly left behind, but more so the child who is removed from their home and forced to contact their family and friends.

It said that children abducted by their own parents will be like a “refugee” and may not receive a proper education due to the need to hide, and are more likely to encounter economic, social, political and legal difficulties.

SIS said that abducted children are “forced into a new life in a new environment, especially when they are taken to another country with its own challenges of culture, religion and language barriers. This suffering can deeply traumatize the child”.

“Abducted children can suffer major psychological problems that would otherwise be minimal if they were left to stay with stable parents. This act of desperation only brings more harm than good to the child,” it said, adding that separation anxiety and separation from the other parent can leave a stain on the child’s life.

The SIS said legal action should be taken in cases of parental child abduction, especially those involving the child’s departure from Malaysia.

Since 2003, SIS has been providing free legal advice through Telenisa to Muslim women and men on their legal rights under Islamic family law and Shariah offenses laws. Such matters in Islamic family law include divorce, polygamy, maintenance of spouse and children, property of spouse and custody of child.

Telenisa can be reached at 012-812 3424 from Monday to Friday from 10am to 5pm via phone calls, video calls and WhatsApp, with face-to-face consultations available by making appointments.

Over the years, Malaysia has seen several high-profile cases of parents abducting and fleeing children from their estranged spouses when the marriage breaks down and after one of the spouses converts to Islam, including Ipoh-based Hindu mother M. Indira Gandhi whose daughter was taken in 2009 by her Muslim convert husband; Hindu mother S. Deepa whose son was abducted in 2014 by her Muslim convert ex-husband two days after she obtained legal custody of her two children in a civil court in Seremban; and Hindu mother Loh Siew Hong whose Muslim ex-husband left in 2019 with her three children and left her separated from them for years before reuniting with them in 2022.

Indira still hopes to be reunited with her daughter who is believed to have been taken away by her ex-husband in Malaysia, while the Federal Court in 2016 decided to split custody of the two children between Deepa and her ex-husband as the two later agreed to allow access to both children during regular joint meetings.

A Malaysian non-Muslim mother, identified only as W, was reunited in September 2022 with her four children who were secretly brought by her Malaysian and Muslim convert ex-husband to Indonesia in 2019. W’s four-year forced separation from her children was despite court orders that gave her full custody of the children and prevented the father from taking the children to Thailand out of Malaysia.

Thai national Anna Leelertwongpakdee also recently expressed concern over how her estranged husband was able to smuggle their four-year-old daughter across Thailand’s national borders to Malaysia without proper documentation. She said the child was abducted after her ex-husband did not return the baby to her after the end of her two-day visit in April.

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