Swimming pool (illustration)
Swimming pool (illustration)Flash 90

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that Muslim parents in Switzerland will have to send their children to mixed-gender swimming lessons, despite conceding that religious freedoms were being interfered with, on the grounds that mixed-gender swimming lessons were part of a ‘full school curriculum’ and the children’s ‘successful integration’ into society.

According to the BBC, the case was initiated by two Swiss nationals of Turkish origin from Basel who wouldn’t send their teenage daughters to compulsory mixed-gender lessons.

Swiss education officials, however, said that exemptions were available only for girls who had reached the age of puberty – which the girls had not at the time.

When the parents refused to obey the directives, they were ordered in 2010 to pay a combined fee of €1,300 "for acting in breach of their parental duty." The parents then said the fine and the treatment meted out by the officials was in violation of article nine of the European Convention on Human Rights, which deals with the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.

In a statement, the ECHR said the refusal to exempt the girls had interfered with the right to freedom of religion. But it also said the law involved was designed to “protect foreign pupils from any form of social exclusion” and Switzerland was free to design its education system according to its own needs and traditions.

The Daily Pakistan reports that 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.

Switzerland has also applied the law to other cases – a man of Bosnian origin was fined last year for refusing to allow his daughter to take part in swimming lessons during school hours, among other activities.

Germany also battled with the issue of mixed swimming lessons in 2013, when a judge ruled that a 13-year-old girl must attend – but allowed the wearing of a burkini.

In France, in 2009, a woman was banned from swimming in a public pool in her burkini. That was followed in 2016 by a controversial official ban on the garment in public spaces – which was eventually overturned by French courts.

France, Belgium, and the Netherlands all have bans on Muslim veils in public, to varying degrees.