Two Rastafarian parents, who refused to send their children to school, will know in two weeks what punishment they will face for breaking the law. They will also have to await the outcome of a High Court matter to see whether their children will become wards of the court.
The two were Friday found guilty of breaching Section 41 Clause (b) of the Education Act, Chapter 41 on the grounds that there is absolutely no record of the children — a boy and a girl both under the age of ten — ever attending formal classes.
The state-run Child Care Board (CCB), which disclosed in the court today that it has taken steps to make the children wards the court, came in for some criticism from Magistrate Douglas Frederick for waiting too long before taking action.
Appearing before Frederick in the District ‘A’ No 1 Court after being summoned, child care officer Henderson Lowe said the CCB was “following the guidance” of the Ministry of Education, which had given the Board information about the situation two years ago.
“Our position was that given the length of time that the matter had been under the attention of the ministry, the alternative would be to charge the parents, since all the evidence supports the charge,” he told the court.
However, Frederick raised concern that the children were still unschooled despite the Board having the authority to handle such matters.
“If you were in constant contact [with the Child Care Board] then you would have seen that the children had not been to school and your interest is to make sure that children go to school,” Frederick stated.
Lowe then revealed that it was the Board’s belief that the parents should have been charged for the offence as the Ministry had been dealing with the matter since 2013.
However, that statement did not appease the magistrate, who responded saying: “But the fact is that they were not charged and you ought to have known that. So then you had other things that you could have done . . . . For instance, making the children wards of the court,” Frederick said, to which Lowe replied, “But that is happening now, Sir, at the High Court.”
Following Lowe’s evidence, the police prosecutor Sergeant Neville Watson closed his case against the Rastafarian parents.
The father then gave an unsworn statement and made it clear that he was standing by his decision not to enroll his wards in the public school system.
“I follow the constitution of religion, that I was in my rights. The constitution of religion states that no standards or qualifications [are] required in relation to the place of education. So, pun I religious rights I made my stance,” he said.
“The children cannot take that environment. They were raised in a spiritual environment; they cannot take the environment that exists right now in the school system. As I see it, they are at a serious disadvantage. They are not going to be subjected to any environment like that. This is not a matter of education, this is a matter of place of education. Religion is not subject to mandatory school attendance . . . . So I take I stance on that.”
The mother, meanwhile, had few words.
“I stand on I stance,” she said.
Frederick then told the couple that while he respected their religious beliefs, the fact remained that they lived in a society and “therefore, even within your practices, you still have to abide by the order of society.”
“The order of society in relation to these children is that they must attend school, either an educational institution under the Ministry of Education or even homeschooled. We are not discriminating against you based on any religion but what I am saying is that even your religious practices must conform to what the order of society is,” Frederick said as he found the parents guilty of the offence.
They return to the District ‘A’ Court on October 7 for sentencing and the High Court next Wednesday.