News / Africa

Malawi Rastafarians Push for Dreadlocks in Schools

Rastafarians march to protest a ban on dreadlocks in primary schools, Lilongwe, Malawi. (Lameck Masina for VOA)
Rastafarians march to protest a ban on dreadlocks in primary schools, Lilongwe, Malawi. (Lameck Masina for VOA)
TEXT SIZE - +
Lameck Masina
— Rastafarians in Malawi are intensifying their push for the government to lift its ban on students attending school wearing dreadlocks.  They argue it is unconstitutional to deny their children an education because of their religious practice, which calls for wearing their hair in that style.

Despite an absence of legislation on hair length or its appearance in Malawi, Rastafarians in this southern African country have long been banned from wearing dreadlocks in public primary schools.  They are usually told to remove the locks or risk being denied entry.   

But the president of the Rastafari for Unity, Ras Judah I, said dreadlocks are a component of their religion.  He says the ban violates the students' right to education and freedom of worship - which are both enshrined in Malawi's constitution.

This month, the Rastafarian community again asked Malawi's government consider lifting its ban.  Ras Judah said they presented a petition last Wednesday after a street march towards the District Commissioners Office in the capital Lilongwe.

“At the moment we are waiting for from the government to respond.  If we cannot have any response we will follow up our petition to the office of president and cabinet, then after getting feedback from the government side, is when we will decide on next action to be sought,” said Juda.

The Rastafarians have been trying to get the unofficial ban on dreadlocks lifted for a decade, to no avail.  

The closest they came was in 2011 when President Bingu wa Mutharika verbally instructed teachers to start allowing dreadlocked Rastafarian children in schools.  But following his death in 2012, the instructions did not get implemented.

The Rastas' push has gained support from some legal experts.

Edge Kanyongolo, a constitutional lawyer who lectures at Chancellor College of the University of Malawi, says although rights can have limits, he sees no reason to ban wearing of dreadlocks.

“Our constitution guarantees various rights including the right to freedom of religion as well as a right to equal treatment.  Now the only time you can limit those rights is if somehow the exercise of the rights harm the rights of others.  In the case of Rastafarian children, I cannot see how allowing them to keep hair in dreadlocks harms anyone at all,” he said.

Ministry of Education authorities have argued that refusing dreadlocked children into classes is in line with education policy which aims to encourage uniformity among students.

Kanyongolo said that policy does not trump constitutional rights.

“If it is against their policy, then the policy should be modernized to be in line with the constitution because the constitution itself is the supreme law of the land and therefore you cannot use a policy to defend yourself against the constitution,” he said.

Government spokesperson Moses Kunkuyu says that the government would consider the Rastafarians’ demand only if they are in line with issues of policies and regulations regarding discipline and conduct of children in public schools.  He did not elaborate.

The spokesman did not rule out the need to match education policies with the constitution, but he said doing so is a process which would take time.  

Rastafarians have won similar legal battles in other countries.
 
For example, in 2009 a group of Rastafarian security officers in New York City won the right to wear their locks in neat ponytails, rather than be forced to tuck them in their uniform caps.

In April of this year, a Rastafarian pupil in South Africa who was ordered to stay away from school until he cut his dreadlocks, was allowed to return following the intervention of a rights group, Equal Education.

This gives Judah hope that sooner or later, Malawian Rastas will win the battle.

You May Like

Analysts Warn of Regional Proxy Conflict in Afghanistan

Analysts warn if Kabul’s neighbors do not start to cooperate, competing desires for influence could deteriorate into a bloody proxy war in the country More

Saudi Intelligence Chief Replaced

Bandar bin Sultan came under criticism for supporting al Qaida, prompting King Abdallah to wrest Syria operations away from him in February, handing them to Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef More

Poetry Magazine editor Don Share talks what makes a good poem with VOA's David Byrd

What makes a good poem? And is poetry as viable an art form as it once was? To find out, VOA's David Byrd spoke to Don Share, the editor of Poetry Magazine. More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Marc from: Oregon
September 18, 2013 11:25 PM
My lord. I bet next they'll be telling us what we can and can't put into our bodies. Oh, wait...

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid