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)
    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

    Video For Many US Veterans, the Vietnam War Continues

    More than 40 years after it ended, war in Vietnam and America’s role in it continue to provoke bitter debate, especially among those who fought in it

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    100 immigrants graduated Friday as US citizens in New York, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in cities across country

    Family's Fight Pays Off With Arlington Cemetery Burial Rights for WASPs

    Policy that allowed the Women Airforce Service Pilots veterans to receive burial rites at Arlington had been revoked in 2015

    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...

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora