High Court okays dreadlocks for Rastafarian pupils

The High Court in Zomba has granted parents of Rastafarian community an injunction stopping Ministry of Education, Science and Technology from denying children with dreadlocks access to classes in government schools.

Women Lawyers Association represented the community and lawyer Chikondi Chijozi said they asked for the injunction following several complaints from the parents who said their children were being forced out of school for wearing dreadlocks.

A pupil attends school in dreadlocks

“We received about 80 complaints from the community as women lawyers for our intervention. Previously we had a case involving one girl who had been denied school because of dreadlocks which we successfully defended.

“But after that many parents have been approaching us, so we are glad that the court has granted us an injunction. This time around it is an injunction for all the children in the Rastafarian community that attend government school, whether in primary or secondary,” she said.

According to the injunction order, dated  January 13 2020, for judicial cause number 55 of 2019 before Justice Zione Ntaba, the case is between the State with the Attorney General as first respondent, the Minister of Education, the Education division manager (Southern Region), the headmaster, Blantyre Girls Secondary School as second, third and fourth respondents, respectively,

The first applicants are Makeda Mbewe, a minor through his father and next friend Wisdom Mahara Mbewe with Centre for Human Rights Education Advice and Assistance (Chreaa), whose deputy executive director is Chijozi, as the second applicant.

It orders the respondents to allow the applicants not only to enroll as pupils in the school, but also to be offered make-up classes for any classes missed and provide a report of the make-up classes to the court.

Reads the order in part: “Compelling the 2nd Respondent to allow all children of Rastafarian religion who have dreadlocks, enroll into Government schools pending the final determination of this matter.”

Meanwhile, Ministry of Education Principal Secretary Justin Saidi says they have not been served with the injunction order, but will act on it once they receive it and upon counsel from the Attorney General.

He said: “I cannot comment much on the injunction as I have not seen it yet, but since these are legal issues, we will seek guidance from the Attorney General.”

Civil Society Education Coalition executive director Benedicto Kondowe has since welcomed the court’s decision, saying there is need for government to comply.

He said government should not have waited for the court to make that decision. “The decision enforces the constitutional right to education for all despite one’s beliefs, according to Section 25 and Section 13 of the Republican Constitution. The State should have policies that remove discrimination,” Kondowe said.

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