COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Denmark will force children in residential areas containing large numbers of immigrants to be educated about democracy, equality and major Danish holidays such as Christmas, the government said on Monday.
The Nordic country has for decades struggled with how to integrate immigrants, primarily from the Middle East, into its ethnically and religiously homogeneous welfare society.
The new policy, agreed with major opposition parties, will force young children living in “ghettos” - an official term for areas consisting of primarily non-Western immigrants - into 25 hours of public education a week from the age of one.
Children in Denmark must normally receive 10 years of education from the age of six. However, school attendance is not compulsory, meaning parents have a right to choose how to educate their children.
Danish parents living in the designated areas will also be forced to enroll their children in the initiative, although those already receiving daycare will not be required to join.
While the primary focus will be on language skills and learning readiness, the deal also seeks to educate the primarily Muslim children in Danish traditions and Christian holidays including Christmas and Easter.
If parents fail to enroll their children they could lose their child benefits, the government said.
The amount of non-Western immigrants in the “ghetto” areas was 66.5 percent in 2017, according to the Danish ministry of housing. Non-western immigrants make up 8.7 percent of Denmark’s 5.7 million population.
Denmark is the only country in the world to officially describe certain residential areas as “ghettos”, a term originated in sixteenth century Venice to describe areas of the city to which Jews were restricted.
The agreement was reached by a majority in parliament, where the government is led by The Liberal Party and supported by the nationalist Danish People’s Party.
Opposition party The Social Democratic Party, which in recent years like many other European social democrats has taken a harder stance towards Middle Eastern immigrants, also supported the deal.
Reporting by Emil Gjerding Nielson; Editing by Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen and Toby Chopra