Dutch MPs pass law banning face veils in public buildings

New law bans veils and other items that hide the face in government buildings, public transport, schools and hospitals.

Some European countries have completely banned wearing face veils in public [File: Reuters]

The Dutch upper house of parliament has passed a law banning face veils in public buildings, including schools, government offices and hospitals.

The lower house passed the law in 2016, after attempts to impose a more general ban on burqas and other face-covering veils failed.

Proponents of the law say it is meant to make schools, hospitals and public transport safer, but critics say its only aim is to get rid of veils, such as the burqa and niqab.

The Dutch government’s main advising body in 2015 said the choice to wear a veil is protected by the constitutional right to freedom of religion, and that it saw no ground to limit that right.

Existing legislation in the Netherlands already limits the wearing of burqas and other total face-coverings on public transport or in schools.

Measures against the wearing of veils or headscarves have already been taken in Belgium, France, Denmark and Spain, among others.

The ban does not apply to public streets, although police can ask an individual to remove face-covering clothing for identification.

“This is actually virtually a complete ban because the only spaces that are still available for women (who wear face-covering clothing) are the street and the private sector,” said Annelies Moors, professor of Anthropology and Sociology at the University of Amsterdam.

“And, of course, the private sector can also have their house rules, they could also possibly legislate against their presence. So this leaves women very little space.”

“It is completely disproportionate and the only effect will be that many of these women will stay at home even more,” said Green Party senator Ruard Ganzevoort.

“They will not have an opportunity to go to school. They will not have an opportunity to go to learn to swim, and all those things.”

Far-right politician Geert Wilders had pushed for the ban for more than a decade. His Freedom Party claimed the development as a major victory, while Senator Marjolein Faber-Van de Klashorst called it “a historical day because this is the first step to de-Islamise the Netherlands”.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies