A 5-year-old Jamaican girl who attracted international attention when she was banned from school for wearing dreadlocks will return to class, the country’s supreme court has ruled.
The schoolgirl had originally been accepted to a Kensington primary school, but her parents were told they would have to remove her dreadlocks before their daughter could begin attending, reported the Guardian. The family refused, stating it went against their beliefs.
“This is an important first victory that will allow the child to attend school and receive an education which she has a constitutional right to,” said Rodje Malcolm, executive director of Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ), which filed the constitutional challenge on the family’s behalf. “Hair is a form of expression, but it’s not just limited to speech, it has much bigger importance in society.”
Others heralded the ruling as a win for black identity and Rastafarian culture.
“I think after decades of Rastafarian livity, it is obscene at this stage in the 21st century that a child could be denied access to education. This is discrimination based on religion,” Carolyn Cooper, a professor of cultural studies at the University of the West Indies, told the Guardian. “One of the most aggressive forms of state violence against Rastafari is cutting off the dreadlocks. They have suffered systemic brutalisation because of their refusal to bow down to Eurocentric definitions of black identity.”
While the girl’s family does not consider themselves Rastafarians, they have stated that they do “see their hair as a form of expression.”
“It is my personal belief that everyone should look how they want to look and my child has had locks from she was one and she is five now,” Sherine Virgo, the 5-year-old’s mother, told the Jamaica Star in an earlier report. “I am not going to bald off her head to send her to school.”
The Office of the Children’s Advocate supported the challenge and acted as a legal intervenor on their behalf, according to the report. In addition, the education ministry issued a statement of support, repeating that Virgo’s daughter not be required to cut her hair.
It is hoped that the challenge will result in an official change to Jamaica’s constitution, protecting individual expression and black identity.