The Jamaica Progressive Party (JPP) is expressing grave concern
about the issues relating to what appears to be an act of religious, racial and cultural discrimination played out
in a public primary school against a seven year old Rastafarian girl, a matter which first surfaced in 2018.
President of the JPP, Gilbert Edwards, says the State has no right to deny anyone their right to carry out any
practice, rites or customs associated with the religion of their choosing.
“On this the 162 nd anniversary of our Emancipation and the eve of the 58 th year of our Independence, are we
turning back to those days? Are we turning back the hands of time and are beginning to persecute the
Rastafarians for their beliefs again, after all their contributions to this country and the world? Or are we going
to accept all people for who they are?” Mr. Edwards said.
“We as a culture, accept diversity in religion. And many people are having discussions about separation of
State and Church, but what separation of Church and State is, is that Government should not choose to prevent
the act of the use of faith, or to enforce or deny anyone their right to practice any particular religion,” he added.
He added: “It was the same thing with this. You cannot force somebody to act against their religious beliefs
and practices. In fact, the first Rastafarian man was a black man called Samson in The Bible, who God told
not to put razor upon his head, because he was separate and special to Him. So to try to deny a child an
education based on looks, whether it be for a religious practice or culture in this modern day, is totally wrong,
and should not be accepted by society.”
Mr. Edwards says based on reports in the media that the Attorney Generals chambers claims that “there is
nothing which indicates that the child took a Nazarite vow and deliberate action to subscribe to Rastafarianism,
as her religion” was an unsound argument, as the religion practiced by parents are usually ascribed
automatically to their children.
“According to the reports, the State also argued that the child did not take the Nazarite vow, but the parents
did. However, in most cases, the children accept the parents’ religion,” he stressed.
“We accept the religion that we are, because of our parents, 99 percent of the time. So that is not a good
argument against that child because the child is not at the age to make that decision on her own. So therefore,
the parent’s religion becomes the child’s until they become mature enough to choose for themselves,” he
The JPP president said the remarks made by Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte on public radio that the
action taken against the child, was due to concerns about hygiene were also prejudiced and unbecoming of a
“That is an asinine stance because hygiene has nothing to do with your hairstyle. Hygiene is a universal thing,
whether you wear your hair in locks or not”, he stated.
“A lot of people have lice just the same. It doesn’t mean that you have to have dreadlocks in order to be
infected. I have been in the United States for all these years and in the school system in America, people who
don’t wear locks, white, black, Asian and Latino , they have problems with lice, so that shouldn’t be a
statement that comes out of the mouth of an official, when it comes to the education of a child. Because you
are not just talking about the education, but the well being, the emotional and psychological scar that you put
on that child,” Mr. Edwards continued.
Mr. Edwards also pointed out that the way a person’s hair is worn, has no bearing on their competencies,
academic and otherwise.
“What is the basis of our education principles if it has to do with hair? There are Rastafarians who are
lawyers, doctors, teachers in every country.
“We in this country accept the Rastafarian culture. We embrace Bob Marley; we embrace this cultural singer
who put Jamaica on the map, and use him to promote Jamaica. So why is it now that a young child, seven
years old, is being stigmatized as a result of wearing her locks? It should not even be an issue in these days in
our schools. The school system has many more problems to focus on rather than hairstyle,” Mr. Edwards
The JPP president also said the buck stops with Jamaica’s parliamentarians, and no issue can be taken with the
judiciary as judges can only make their rulings based on existing laws.
“We cannot blame the judges if it is based in law. If such a law exists, the Government should immediately
repeal that law so that discrimination cannot persist,” he said.
“So if the judge makes this ruling as a result of our constitution or a law, where receiving an education is
concerned, then that law needs to be amended and changed immediately because the way a child dresses to go
to school and the hairstyle that they wear, should not be a factor or a hindrance to an education,” he added.