European Court of Human Rights rules Muslim girls must swim with boys

European Court of Human Rights rules Muslim girls in Switzerland must swim with boys in landmark case

The European Court of Human Rights

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

In a landmark case, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Muslim girls in Switzerland must undergo swimming lessons with boys if it is part of the school curriculum.

This follows a long-running dispute involving two Swiss nationals of Turkish origin, living in Basel, who refused to send their daughters to swimming lessons in 2010 because boys would be present. 

Because school bosses said exemptions were only to be made for girls who had reached 'the age of puberty', the parents were ordered to pay a fine of 1,300 swiss francs (£1,100) for "acting in breach of their parental duty" - as the girls hadn't reached the age of puberty at this point.

They brought the case before the court, arguing this represented a breach of their rights to freedom of religion under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. While the court acknowledged there to be interference in religious freedoms, the judges ruled there was no violation of the article. 

Recognising that efforts to compromise - like allowing the girls to wear different swimwear and change with no boys present - had been made, judges explained the law was meant to serve as a method of integration for foreign students.

They said it was designed to facilitate their successful adaptation to local customs and protect them from "social exclusion."

The Swiss government takes a hard line on integration. Last year, authorities in Basel denied naturalisation requests for two young girls who had refused to swim with boys present, saying they hadn't "complied with the school curriculum".