Saint Kitts and Nevis

Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
May 29, 2018

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Executive SummaryShare    

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and prohibits discrimination based on religion. The Organization for Rastafarians in Unity (ORU) stated that police harassment of Rastafarians and the mandatory cutting of dreadlocks while in prison continued. The ORU said the government also continued to prohibit their use of marijuana for religious rituals. Following a meeting on October 12 with the ORU, the government said it would allow Rastafarians to use public buildings to celebrate religious holidays and perform marriages. The government also said it would allow unvaccinated children to attend school after it first created a formal process to allow for the exemption.

According to the ORU, Rastafarians continued to face societal discrimination, including when seeking employment. Rastafarian sources said some businesses prohibited the wearing of dreadlocks, which they said were an important component of their faith.

Embassy officials met with government officials, including the minister responsible for ecclesiastical affairs, to discuss the government’s commitment to religious diversity, including issues pertaining to the Rastafarian community. Embassy officials also spoke with three leaders of the Rastafarian community.

Section I. Religious DemographyShare    

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 52,700 (July 2017 estimate). According to the 2011 census, 17 percent of the population is Anglican; 16 percent Methodist; 11 percent Pentecostal; 7 percent Church of God; 6 percent Roman Catholic; 5 percent each Baptist, Moravian, Seventh-day Adventist, and Wesleyan Holiness; 4 percent other; and 2 percent each Brethren, evangelical Christian, and Hindu. An additional 1 percent each is Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslim, and Rastafarian, and less than 1 percent each is Bahai, Presbyterian, and Salvation Army. Nine percent claimed no religious affiliation.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious FreedomShare    

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, including the freedom of individuals to change their religion. It prohibits discrimination based on religious belief.

The Ministry of Nevis Affairs, Labor, Social Security, and Ecclesiastical Affairs is responsible for registering religious groups. Religious groups are not required to register, but doing so provides the government with a database of contacts through which it disseminates information on government policy for religious groups. Registration also allows religious groups to act as charities and import religious items duty-free.

The constitution allows religious groups to establish and maintain schools at the religious community’s own expense. Public schools offer Christian religious instruction, daily prayers, and religious assemblies, but students who do not want to attend are exempt from all religious activities.

The government prohibits the use of marijuana, including for religious purposes.

The law does not prohibit the wearing of dreadlocks; however, businesses may restrict the wearing of dreadlocks for hygiene reasons. Occupational safety and health legislation requires all employees, including those with dreadlocks, to cover their hair when using dangerous equipment, handling food, or undertaking health-related activities.

The country is not a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

The government met with Rastafarian groups on October 12 to address their concerns regarding discrimination. According to the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Nevis Affairs, Labor, Social Security and Ecclesiastical Affairs, whose team led the dialogue with the Rastafarian community, the government agreed to allow Rastafarians to use public buildings to celebrate religious holidays and perform marriages.

ORU representatives said prison officials continued to require Rastafarian prisoners to cut their dreadlocks. Prison officials told ORU representatives that Rastafarians were not required to cut their hair unless their hair posed a health issue such as lice. The prison did not provide different diets based on religious restrictions. Only prisoners with health restrictions received dietary accommodations.

ORU representatives stated Rastafarians continued to face police harassment, particularly for the use of marijuana for religious purposes. Rastafarian representatives continued to state that marijuana, banned by law, was integral to their religious rituals.

The ORU said public and private school officials continued to refuse to enroll Rastafarian children because, in accordance with their faith, Rastafarian parents did not vaccinate their children. The Ministry of Health continued to require the immunization of all children before enrolling in school. In the October 12 meeting with Rastafarian groups, however, the government agreed to allow unvaccinated children to attend school, stating it would develop a formal process to allow for the exemption. Some children of the Rastafarian community were home schooled, but statistics were not available.

According to the ORU, the government charged Rastafarian groups wishing to celebrate Kwanzaa in government-run community centers 400 East Caribbean dollars ($150) but offered the centers to Christian groups for tree lighting ceremonies with no charge. In response to pressure from Rastafarian groups, the government announced in October it would allow Rastafarians to utilize community centers free of charge, similar to other religious groups.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious FreedomShare    

According to the ORU, Rastafarians continued to face some societal discrimination, particularly in seeking private sector employment. The ORU said many hotels prohibited their staff from wearing dreadlocks; hotel management told them that, while no law prohibited the wearing of dreadlocks, hygiene regulations sometimes prohibited dreadlocks at the workplace.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and EngagementShare    

Embassy officials engaged government officials on the government’s commitment to religious diversity, including the minister responsible for ecclesiastical affairs in the Ministry of Nevis Affairs, Labor, Social Security, and Ecclesiastical Affairs. Embassy representatives discussed the impact of government policies and societal attitudes towards Rastafarians with a leader of the Rastafarian community and with the head of the Christian Council.