Back to top
News In Focus

Human rights court upholds compulsory mixed swimming for Muslim girls

10 January 2017

Muslim parents who were refused an exemption for their daughters, who were below the age of puberty, from compulsory mixed swimming lessons as part of their school education, did not suffer a breach of their human rights, the European Court of Human Rights ruled today.

In Osmanoǧlu and Kocabaş v Switzerland a chamber of the Strasbourg court found that the authorities’ refusal to grant the exemption had been an interference with the parents' freedom of religion, but was one that was prescribed by law and pursued a legitimate aim, the protection of foreign pupils from any form of social exclusion.

The seven judges unanimously ruled that school played a special role in the process of social integration, particularly where children of foreign origin were concerned, and that the children’s interest in a full education, facilitating their successful social integration according to local customs and mores, took precedence over the parents’ wishes in this matter. The children’s interest in attending swimming lessons was not just to learn to swim, but above all to take part in that activity with all the other pupils, with no exception on account of the children’s origin or their parents’ religious or philosophical convictions.

They noted that the authorities had offered the applicants very flexible arrangements to reduce the impact of the children’s attendance at mixed swimming classes on the applicants' religious convictions, such as allowing their daughters to wear a burkini. There had also been an accessible procedure for the applicants to have the merits of their application for an exemption examined.

The domestic authorities had therefore not exceeded the considerable margin of appreciation afforded to them in the present case.

Click here to view the judgment (French only).

Have your say