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Malawi High court orders schools to allow dreadlocks

Rastafarian Feniya Mbewe with her daughters

Rastafarian Feniya Mbewe with her daughters

Rastafarian Feniya Mbewe was upset when the Blantyre Girls primary school refused to enroll her daughter, Makeda Mbewe, because of her hair.

The school said the girl's dreadlocks were against a policy requiring students to have their hair shortly trimmed. So, Mbewe took the school to court — and won.

Malawi's High court on January 14 ordered all public schools to allow students with dreadlocks.

"We are very much excited because in this battle, we were not fighting for Makeda alone but all other children who are turned back from school," Mbewe said. "The problem was widespread." 

The Malawi High court also ordered the school to give daughter Makeda extra classes to make up for those she missed.

Rastafarianism is an Abrahamic religion from Jamaica that stresses living what they regard as naturally, including their hair.

"In our religion, they say every Rasta has to keep dreadlocks," said Jerefaya Mphomeya, chairman for Rastafarians in southern Malawi.

"When you go to the Book of Numbers, verse six, if you want to work full time in the works of the Most High as a Nazarite, you have to keep your dreadlocks. You have to keep your hair grow."

Malawi's Rastafarians have long been sidelined by education policy requiring students to cut their hair to promote uniformity in school. Some Rastafarian parents chose private schools, while others gave in and cut their children's dreadlocks.

"When I took my children to a public school, they refused to enroll them until they cut their dreadlocks," said mother Debora Habakuku. "I tried to find an alternative, but I failed. So instead, I trimmed their hair so that they should get an education."

The High court ruling means Rastafarian parents will no longer have to choose between their religious practice or sending their children to public school.

Malawi's education authorities refused to comment. They have until February 4 to appeal the High court's order.

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