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

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book 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.
Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festivali
X
April 24, 2015 4:09 AM
Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Keeping Washington Airspace Safe Is Tall Order

Being the home of all three branches of the U.S. federal government makes Washington, D.C. the prime target for those who want to make their messages and ideas heard. Unfortunately, many of them choose to deliver them in unorthodox ways, including from the air, as a recent incident clearly showed involving a gyrocopter landing on the Capitol’s West Lawn. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video Hope, Prayer Enter Fight Against S. Africa Xenophobia

South Africa has been swept by disturbing attacks on foreign nationals. Some blame the attacks on a legacy of colonialism, while others say the economy is to blame. Whatever the cause, ordinary South Africans - and South African residents from around the world - say they're praying for the siege of violence to end. Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.

VOA Blogs