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German state government defends child headscarf ban

April 11, 2018

North Rhine-Westphalia's government is on the defense after a plan to legally ban girls from wearing headscarves in school sparked controversy. Germany's anti-discrimination head said a ban could marginalize Muslim kids.

A child wears a headscarf and a backpack while waiting in line at school
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/W. Kastl

Serap Güler, the undersecretary in the integration ministry for the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), has fiercely defended a proposal to ban girls under the age of 14 from wearing headscarves or hijabs in school.

The ban, proposed by state's Christian Democrat (CDU) and Free Democrat (FDP) coalition government, has divided teachers, school experts, religious organizations and even ministers within German Chancellor Angela Merkel's own party.

Read moreGerman headscarf ban for children met with mixed response

What the integration undersecretary said

  • "This is about the free development of a child. That's why this isn't a debate about religion or integration, but rather a debate about the best interests of the child," Güler, a member of the CDU, said in an interview with ZDF's "Morgenmagazin."
  • She noted that according to Islamic custom, girls should only begin wearing a head scarf after the start of puberty, arguing: "Therefore, no one can invoke [the argument of ] exercising religious freedom, since the religion doesn't even call for it at this age."
  • Güler also took issue with the custom that headscarves are intended to conceal women's "charms" from men, stating: "That daycare and elementary school-aged girls must conceal their attractiveness from men — that's what sexualizes the child."
  • "When a young woman then says: 'I want to wear a headscarf,' that is her right, which we also have to accept and respect," she added.

Read moreGood Friday ban on Muslim circumcision parties in Germany raises larger religious questions

Where do others stand on the proposed ban?

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the secretary general of Merkel's CDU, said she hopes the party will be able to convince parents to not have their children wear the head coverings, "but we aren't ruling out a ban as a last resort."

Her comments conflicted with other CDU members, including federal integration commissioner Annette Widmann-Mauz, who said that such a ban raises several constitutional questions.

Christine Lüders, the head of the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency, warned against banning individual religious symbols, arguing: "Whoever wants to ban the Muslim headscarf at schools isn't solving any integration problems, rather they are contributing to students feeling marginalized and discriminated against."

FDP head Christian Lindner defended NRW Integration Minister and FDP member Joachim Stamp's plan for the ban, saying: "If children already have to wear headscarves in elementary schools or even in Kindergarten, this strongly influences the personal development of minors."

Read moreMistrust and Islamophobia see dramatic rise in Germany's melting pot

Why the specific age limit? In Germany, children can freely choose their religion starting at age 14. The age is protected under a 1921 law granting young people aged 14 and up the right to freely choose their religious beliefs.

Is there any data on the issue? Güler said there's currently no concrete figures on how many young girls wear headscarves.

Austria eyes similar move: In early April, Austria's conservative government announced a similar plan to ban girls aged up to 10-years-old from wearing headscarves in kindergarten and elementary school. The previous Austrian administration passed a law banning all face coverings in public, but allowed women to wear the regular hijab.

rs/jm (dpa, epd, KNA)

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