ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey has lifted a ban on the Islamic-style headscarf in schools, allowing girls from the fifth grade and up to cover their hair in a further easing of generations-old restrictions on the public expression of faith.
The government, whose roots are in political Islam, has already lifted a ban on religious garb for university students and female civil servants, scrapping curbs stemming from the founding of Turkey's secular republic in 1923 on the ashes of Islamic Ottoman Empire.
"Our female students have yearned" for the end of the ban, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said late on Monday after a cabinet meeting approved the changes.
"The change applies to middle and high schools, not to primary schools," Education Minister Nabi Avci told reporters on Tuesday in comments broadcast by CNN Turk. "Beginning with fifth grade, everyone can practice this."
According to Islamic custom, girls may start covering their hair when they reach puberty.
The government lifted the ban on hijabs in the public sector workforce and state universities in 2013 after years of pressure from its supporters. The ban was widely seen as an infringement of the women's human rights, even by some secular Turks.
Opponents say President Tayyip Erdogan is trying to make Turks more devout through the school system and undo the secular order enshrined in the constitution.
The new rule is part of wider education overhaul that has included nearly doubling the number of religious vocational schools in the country in the last five years.
(Reporting by Ayla Jean Yackley; Editing by Tom Heneghan)