School Authorities Rescind Minor’s Expulsion Over Religious Beliefs
12 February 2024
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Authorities at a Zimbabwean school have re-admitted a 12 year-old pupil whom they had chased away from attending lessons for wearing hair long, a practice, which was deemed to be against the learning institution’s regulations.

The school head at Chogugudza Primary School in Domboshava in Mashonaland East province, identified as T Phiri, had on 9 January 2024 barred the minor child from attending her school lessons because she had not shaved her natural hair.

Furthermore and on several occasions, the school authorities continued to bar the pupil from attending her school lessons for the same reason of wearing long hair. This was notwithstanding the fact that she is currently reading for her Grade Seven final examinations.

Prior to implementing this drastic measure, the pupil, who is enrolled as a Grade 7 student, had attended her school lessons without any hindrances from the school administration.

The minor child’s parents then engaged Kelvin Kabaya of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, who on Monday 5 February wrote a letter to the school authorities complaining about their conduct in denying the pupil entry into the school premises because of her religious beliefs, which require her to wear long hair.

In the letter, which was also copied to the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, Kabaya lamented that attempts by the pupil’s parents to engage the school authorities and allow the 12 year-old child to attend lessons had been futile as they insisted that she should shave her natural hair as a precondition to being accepted back to school hence she has not been attending lessons since then.

In the attempts to engage the school authorities, the parents specifically highlighted some pertinent issues stating that the pupil and her family were devout members of the African Apostolic Faith Mission church, and in terms of the doctrine of the church, female members must not shave their hair as a means of expressing their beliefs and religion, alone and together with other members of the church.

Kabaya charged that the school authorities’ conduct of barring the pupil from attending her lessons was a clear violation of several of her constitutional rights, more particularly, the right to freedom of thought, opinion, religion and belief guaranteed in section 60(1)(a) of the Constitution, the freedom to practice and propagate and give expression to their thought, opinion, religion or belief, whether in public or in private and whether alone or together with others provided for in section 60(1)(b) of the Constitution.

The human rights lawyer also protested that the authorities had violated the pupil’s right to education guaranteed in section 75 of the Constitution and that her fundamental right not to be discriminated against by imposition of onerous terms and conditions and by being excluded or expelled from school, on the grounds of her opinion or religious belief as provided for under section 4(2)(b) of the Education Amendment Act, 2020 had also been breached.

Kabaya then gave the school authorities a twenty-four hour ultimatum to admit the minor child back in school and to allow her to attend lessons in the ordinary manner, failure of which he would institute legal action against them.

After the delivery of the letter, the school authorities immediately allowed the pupil to attend lessons after Phiri relented on his hard line stance.