China will introduce school uniform guidelines to prevent racial and religious discrimination

China is taking a stance in attempting to make life easier for studThe Equal Opportunities Commission will introduce school uniform guidelines next month to prevent pupils from suffering discrimination due to their race or religion.

"It has come to the EOC's attention that there have been concerns raised by schools and parents of ethnic minority pupils involving school uniform policies," the commission's chairman, York Chow Yat-ngok, said yesterday.

"Most of these cases tend to focus on racial issues relating to religious beliefs.

"Some religions and cultures require adherents to follow a particular dress code or to outwardly manifest their beliefs by wearing or carrying specific items."

Chow (pictured) said although schools' uniform traditions should be respected, religious traditions such as the wearing of headscarves by Muslim pupils should also be respected.

However, he said not all requests were "proper", giving the example of pupils who asked to wear veils that could affect their studying in classes and social interactions.

Although there is no law against religious discrimination, Chow said that as religious practices were often linked to racial identities, uniform requirements could breach the Racial Discrimination Ordinance by "indirectly" discriminating against racial groups.

Chow said that when conflicts arose regarding uniform requirements and religion, schools and parents should discuss the issue and come to an agreement.

The commission will also monitor the distribution of ethnic minority pupils in schools and the progress of pupils in learning Chinese as a second language.

The commission plans to set up a multi-ethnic task force with annual funding of HK$4.7 million from the government to improve its work on promoting racial equality, according to Chow.

Promoting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people will also remain a key focus.

Chow said the commission had sent a letter to the International Christian School in Sha Tin, which had imposed a ban on gay teachers under a controversial "morality contract".

Although the commission had not received the school's reply, Chow said he believed the policy was improper and he would follow up on the issue.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as School uniform guidelines to prevent discriminationents of all religious backgrounds.