April 4, 2018 / 2:29 PM / 21 days ago

Austria's government aims to ban headscarves in kindergarten

VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria’s right-wing government announced plans on Wednesday to ban girls from wearing headscarves in kindergarten and primary schools to combat what it sees as a threat to Austrian mainstream culture from some Muslims.

Austria's Chancellor Sebastian Kurz addresses the media after a cabinet meeting in Vienna, Austria, April 4, 2018. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader

Austria took in more than one percent of its population in asylum seekers during Europe’s migration crisis, an issue that helped Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s conservatives win an election last year by taking a hard line on immigration.

“Our goal is to confront any development of parallel societies in Austria,” Kurz told ORF radio, using a term he and the far-right Freedom Party (FPO), the coalition partner, favour to describe what they see as a threat posed by some Muslims to mainstream culture.

“Girls wearing a headscarf in kindergarten or primary school is of course part of that.”

If any such plan became law it would apply to girls of up to around the age of 10 years.

Austria's Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache address the media after a cabinet meeting in Vienna, Austria, April 4, 2018. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader

Many Muslims believe their religion requires girls to wear a headscarf from puberty. Headscarves are rarely worn before then.

Kurz, at a news conference with Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache of the FPO, said they believed there was a problem in schools though they produced no figures to support this.

“What I can tell you is that it is a growing phenomenon. A few decades ago we did not have this in Austria and now it occurs primarily in Islamic kindergartens but also here and there in public establishments of Vienna and other cities,” Kurz said.

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He said a bill would be drawn up.

Austria’s main Muslim organisation was not immediately available for comment.

The previous coalition of Social Democrats and Kurz’s conservatives, passed a law banning face coverings including Muslim full-face veils in public spaces, but women and girls are free to wear regular hijab.

It considered banning teachers from wearing headscarves but that plan was dropped after a debate over religious symbols in schools such as the Catholic crosses that still hang on many classroom walls.

For any headscarf ban to come into force in kindergartens, which are run by Austria’s provinces, the government would need a two-thirds majority in parliament and therefore the support of either the Social Democrats or the liberal Neos party.

While the Social Democrats said they wanted a broader package of measures, they did not rule out cooperation. The Neos said they would examine the text drawn up by the government.

Reporting by Francois Murphy and Alexandra Schwarz-Goerlich; Editing by Richard Balmforth

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