By Arman Kaliev
A student walks with a teacher October 11, 2006, at a Muslim lycée in Décines, France, during an open house organised by the school's operator, the Al-Kindi association. Kazakhstan is grappling with the question of whether to let schoolgirls wear hijabs. [Jean-Philippe Ksiazek/AFP]
ASTANA -- Although most Kazakhstani students and parents are following government rules banning Islamic headscarves in schools, others are refusing to attend classes.
In January 2016, Kazakhstan adopted a law banning the hijab in schools. A subsequent directive issued by the Ministry of Education and Science outlined the requirements for school uniforms.
According to the policy, school uniforms should be in line with the secular nature of education -- incorporating religious elements into the school uniform is prohibited.
Still, some parents do not agree with the school dress code requirements, saying that the ministry's directive infringes on their children's constitutional rights.
Earlier this month, the administration of Public School No. 37 in Uralsk stopped allowing students in Muslim headscarves to attend classes.
The school sent home at least 13 pupils, according to Radio Free Europe/Radlo Liberty's Kazakh service.
Meanwhile, at Specialised Secondary School No. 30 in Atyrau, nine students who were previously suspended are back in classes after they stopped wearing their hijabs, local news reported October 18.
The hijab ban violates the constitution and children's rights, argue some legal scholars, while the government insists it is maintaining a secular state.
"The ban on wearing Islamic clothing and other symbols in educational institutions is an example of discrimination and is therefore unconstitutional," Yuriy Gusakov, director of the Karaganda branch of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, told Caravanserai.
In Mangistau Province, most formerly headscarf-wearing schoolgirls have stopped wearing their headscarves to school, Yerkin Ongarbayev, acting chairman of the government's Committee for Religious Affairs, told Today.kz in September. Work continues with parents in other provinces, he said.
"The constitution of Kazakhstan gives each citizen the right to receive a high school education," Ongarbayev said. That is why a warning or fine, or even criminal prosecution, could await some parents who remain defiant.
"We are trying to convince these people that there is a school uniform, and they need to comply with this standard," he told Today.kz. "We are a secular state."
Presidents of Central Asian countries overall called 2017 a year of changes and said they foresee further innovations in 2018.
What is the biggest threat to peace and security in your country for 2018?