updated 23 Dec 2011, 13:35
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'Jail won't curb divorces'
by Sulaiman Jaafar and Eunice Au

KUALA LUMPUR - Education trumps punishment in reducing divorce rates, said Malaysian Syariah Lawyers Association president Musa Awang.

Musa said the focus should be on educating the public about divorce rather than introducing punishments.

"No matter how severe the punishment is, it will not reduce the number of divorces if people do not know that divorce outside of the court is an offence," said Musa.

Under syariah, a divorce must be carried out in front of a judge and must be approved by the court, he said, so requests for divorce through text message, fax or email were offences.

"Valid reasons for a divorce include situations where there is no understanding between the couple, when they live apart from each other or when one spouse is not responsible to the family," said Musa.

On Tuesday, Kelantan Family, Women and Health Committee chairman Wan Ubaidah Omar said the state government was considering imposing stiff penalties, including jail and the rotan, for men who divorced their wives without valid reasons. The move was an effort to curb the high number of divorces in the state.

But syariah lawyer Suriany Awaluddin believed that stiff penalties would deter husbands from seeking divorce.

"The punishment will cause husbands to think twice before divorce," said Suriany, adding that some men opted to divorce out of court because proceedings usually took up to a year and might be troublesome if the couple did not mutually agree.

Kelantan Syariah Chief Judge Datuk Daud Muhamad said there was no provision under the Kelantan Islamic Family Enactment 1984 to penalise husbands for giving lame reasons to divorce.

Daud believed there was no need to introduce penalties as it was covered under those divorcing their wives without the permission of the court.

"The syariah court normally allows divorces between couples if there are irreconcilable differences between them and if one of the partners is seriously sick, even though this seldom happens."

Meanwhile, Wan Ubaidah said yesterday the state government supported the proposal to impose a stiff sentence on those who divorced their partners without valid reasons.

But she said the more pressing need was for men to pay maintenance to their former wives and children.

"We should emphasise this as the present law is quite lenient and there are many cases of husbands who failed to pay alimony, especially for children even though the court had ruled on their cases."

Murni Women's Development Foundation of Kelantan president Siti Aishah Ab Rahman said the compulsory premarital course for Muslim couples should be extended to six months. It is now held over two days.

"Harsh penalties can deter husbands from divorcing their wives according to their whims and fancies, but marriage courses will be more effective because it will teach couples about tolerance."

Sisters In Islam advocacy, legal services and public education manager Suri Kempe said to tackle high divorce rates and wife abuse, people had to be educated on gender respect.

Related links:
Many men ignore ex-wives, kids: Malaysia

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