Switzerland has won a case at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) making it obligatory for Muslim parents to send their daughters to mixed school swimming lessons. Though the seven judges’ panel found, in this case, freedom of religion had been “interfered with”, but the move was aimed to promote “social integration”. The judges also said that the decision did not amount to a violation.
They were ruling on a legal challenge brought by two Swiss nationals of Turkish origin, who refused to send their teenage daughters to the compulsory swimming lessons with male classmates in the city of Basel. They claimed that their beliefs prohibited them from allowing their daughters to take part.
Education officials, however, made an exception for the girls who had reached the age of puberty. The concerned girls here had not reached puberty at the time. The order also made “very flexible arrangements” for the family, including allowing the girls to wear burkinis during lessons and change clothes in separate rooms without boys.
After a long-running conflict in 2010, the parents were asked to pay a combined fine worth 1,400 Swiss Francs ($1,380, £1,136) “for acting in breach of their parental duty”.
The parents had argued that such treatment was a violation of article 9 of the ECHR, which covers the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
In counter, the ECHR stated that such a law had been designed to “protect foreign pupils from any form of social exclusion” and Switzerland is a country that develops its education system in accord with the needs and traditions.
“The Court observed that school played a special role in the process of social integration, and one that was all the more decisive where pupils of foreign origin were concerned,” a statement said. “The children’s interest in a full education, thus facilitating their successful social integration according to local customs and mores, prevailed over the parents’ wish to have their children exempted from mixed swimming lessons.”
Judges observed that the classes are significant for the development of child’s health and it should not be interfered by the religious convictions of parents.
Switzerland is boiling amidst an ongoing national debate over the role of Islam in education and society of the country. In 2016, officials in Basel suspended the citizenship process for the family of two teenage Muslim brothers who refused to shake hands with female teachers.