The media space has since Friday been shuttling with diverse opinions on the matter relating to the admission of the Rastafarian students into Achimota School for their senior high education.
This subject of tensioned public interest has resulted in the Ghana Education Service (GES), National Association of Graduate Teachers (NAGRAT), management of Achimota School and other interested individuals/groups issuing orders and counter directives amongst others.
Understandably, the heightened concern touches on issues relating to equality and non-discrimination before the law, educational rights, children’s rights,
cultural rights and practices and freedom of religion.
Clearly, this is a matter that deals with the interpretation of the Constitution of which the Supreme Court has exclusive original jurisdiction. All I express is but my view on the issue.
Equality And Non-Discrimination Before The Law
At the heart of international human rights law lays the principles of equality and non-discrimination. They are the only human rights provisions explicitly included in the UN Charter which appears almost at the beginning of every human rights instrument.
Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaims that:
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”
Articles 2 and 7 of the declaration further portend that rights are fundamental and generally granted to everyone without discrimination of any kind (such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status).
The 1992 Constitution of the Republic of Ghana [the Constitution] guarantees equality and non-discrimination of all persons. The preamble to the Constitution provides that:
“IN EXERCISE of our natural and inalienable right to establish a framework of government which shall secure for ourselves and posterity the blessings of liberty, equality of opportunity and prosperity.”
The Constitution ensures the protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms. Article 12 (2) of the Constitution provides that:
“Every person in Ghana, whatever his race, place of origin, political opinion, colour, religion, creed or gender shall be entitled to the fundamental human rights and freedoms of the individual contained in this Chapter but subject to respect for the rights and freedoms of others and for the public interest.”
Further, Articles 17 and 35 of the Constitution extensively provides for equality and freedom from discrimination. For instance, Article 17 (2) states that:
“A person shall not be discriminated against on grounds of gender, race, colour, ethnic origin, religion, creed or social or economic status.”
Article 35 (5) also specifies that:
“The State shall actively promote the integration of the peoples of Ghana and prohibit discrimination and prejudice on the grounds of place of origin,
circumstances of birth, ethnic origin, gender or religion, creed or other beliefs.”
The Constitution is quite clear when it comes to equality and non-discrimination before the law and amplifies it without ambiguity. Every person in Ghana, whatever his religion, shall be entitled to the fundamental human rights and shall not be discriminated against on grounds of religion etc.
It must be stressed that Education remains a right and not a privilege. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) of the United Nations Human Rights devotes two articles, 13 and 14, to the right to education and underscores that education in all its forms and at all levels shall exhibit availability, accessibility, acceptability and adaptability. The right to education is a human right and underpins the Sustainable Development Goal 4 Education 2030 Agenda.
Article 25 (1) of the Constitution provides for educational rights and specifies that:
“All persons shall have the right to equal educational opportunities and facilities and with a view to achieving the full realization of that right”.
It is noteworthy that Article 25 affirms that “All persons shall have the right to equal educational opportunities” (emphasis added).
The Constitution in Article 25 provides for children’s rights. Subsection (5) describes a child as a person below the age of eighteen. Children are enjoined to be protected and not be subjected to torture or degrading treatment or punishment. Subsection (4) provides that:
“No child shall be deprived by any other person of medical treatment, education or any other social or economic benefit by reason only of religious or other beliefs.”
This provision asserts that “No child shall be deprived by any other person of education or any other by reason only of religious or other beliefs” (emphasis added).
Cultural Rights And Practices
Subject to the provisions of the Constitution, the law enjoins every person to enjoy, practise, profess, maintain and promote any culture, language, tradition or religion in Article 26 (1). Every person is entitled to enjoy, practise, profess, maintain and promote any religion (emphasis added). Apart from cultural rights and practices, the Constitution also deals with freedom of religion.
Freedom Of Religion
Under general fundamental freedoms, the Constitution provides for the freedom of religion. In Article 21 (1) (c) it states that:
“(1) All persons shall have the right to –
(c) freedom to practise any religion and to manifest such practice.”
It must be noted that Rastafarianism is an Africa-centred religion which developed in Jamaica in the 1930s. The wearing of hair in dreadlocks by Rastafarians is believed to be spiritual and inspired by the Nazarites in the Bible.
Situating the instant case of the Rastafarian students to the position of the law, one can comfortably conclude that they [the students] shall have the right to equal educational opportunities and that none of them shall be deprived by any other person of education or any other by reason only of religious or other beliefs.
Further, they are entitled to enjoy, practise, profess, maintain and promote any religion and that they shall have the right to freedom to practise any religion and to manifest such practice.
To be continued…
By Harold Boateng