Austria's right-wing government is discussing a ban on headscarves for girls in kindergarten and primary schools to tackle what it sees as a threat to Austrian mainstream culture. The move is the latest measure targeting Muslims in the country.
“Our goal is to confront any development of parallel societies in Austria,” Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told ORF radio.
Austria took in more than one percent of its population in asylum seekers during Europe’s migration crisis, an issue that helped Kurz’s conservatives win an election last year by taking a hard line on immigration.
“Girls wearing a headscarf in kindergarten or primary school is of course part of that,” Kurz said.
If the plan became law it would apply to girls of up to around the age of 10.
At a news conference with Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache of the FPO, Kurz 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. He added a bill would be drawn up.
The Kurier newspaper reported that neither the education ministry nor various experts they asked were able to provide figures for how many girls currently wear headscarves in kindergartens and primary schools.
Education Minister Heinz Fassmann said that the draft law, which would be ready by the summer, was a "symbolic" act, regardless of how many children were affected.
The Islamic Religious Community in Austria said it was resolutely opposed to the government's plan and that their first concern was the best interests of the child.
They called the debate "a marginal issue", which had been given disproportionate attention.
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 dropped the issue after a debate over religious symbols in schools such as the Catholic crosses that still hang on many classroom walls.
The government will need a two-thirds majority in parliament and therefore the support of either the Social Democrats or the liberal Neos party for the ban to come into force.
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.