Indonesia bans compulsory Islamic headscarf for schoolgirls

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Indonesia has banned schools from forcing girls to wear Islamic “hijab” headscarves after the case of a Christian student forced to cover up sparked outrage in the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

The move was applauded Friday by human rights activists, who say non-Muslim girls have been forced to wear a hijab for years in conservative parts of the country.

Public schools in the Southeast Asian archipelago of nearly 270 million people will face sanctions if they fail to comply with the edict of Education Minister Nadiem Makarim.

On Wednesday, he said religious dress was an individual choice and schools “cannot make it compulsory.”

Schools that break the rules could see their public funding cut, he added.

“The decree is a positive step in protecting the rights of women in Indonesia,” said Andreas Harsono, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch in Jakarta.

He said public schools had forced millions of girls and teachers to wear hijabs, causing “bullying, intimidation, social pressure – and in some cases forced evictions and resignations” if they didn’t. were not doing.

There have been concerns about the rise of religious intolerance in a country where nearly 90 percent of the population follows Islam.

The headscarf issue grabbed the headlines after a Christian student in the West Sumatran town of Padang was forced to wear a hijab.

She refused and her parents then secretly recorded a meeting with an official who insisted that school rules require all girls to wear a hijab, regardless of their religion.

The school later apologized after the video went viral.

Religious Affairs Minister Yaqut Cholil Qoumas called the Sumatra affair “the tip of the iceberg”.

“Religion is not meant to be a reason for conflict or a justification for acting unfairly towards those with different beliefs,” he said.

The new regulations will not apply to the conservative province of Aceh, which follows religious law under a long-standing autonomy agreement.

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