Monday, 25 April 2011

The Charter of Rights Maintains Linguistic Discrimination

The place of Jamaican (Patwa) has yet again resurfaced and the discussion is been kept in the public sphere by our leading media houses. The dialogue was sparked by proponents of Jamaican seeking to persuade the Jamaican government to make provision for the protections of Jamaican speakers against discrimination on the ground of language in the recently passed Charter of Rights.

On 22 March, the House of Representatives passed the Charter of Rights and sent it to the Senate. If passed by the Senate, the Charter would result in an amendment of the Jamaican constitution by replacing Chapter III of the current Constitution. According to Luton, "The Charter of Rights places on the State an obligation to promote universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and freedoms for all persons in Jamaica and affords protection to the rights and freedoms of persons as set out in those provisions." Amongst other things, the Charter protects Jamaicans from being discriminated against on ground of gender, race, place of origin, social class, colour, religion and political opinions (Devonish, 02; cf Gleaner commentary, 5 April, 11).

No provision was made for protecting the 95% of the Jamaican population who has Jamaican as their first language against discrimination on the ground of language. This is so, even though the government had given the University of the West Indies (UWI) the opportunity do the research necessary to having an informed discussion/decision on the proposed provision. The UWI through the Jamaican Language Unit (JLU) seized the opportunity and conducted the necessary research. This included organising and implementing the Bilingual Education Project, a pilot project which sought to determine “the most effective means of encouraging full bilingualism for primary level students at the Grades 1 – 4 in Jamaican (Jamaican Creole) (JC) and Standard Jamaican English (SJE)” (BEP webpage). Unfortunately, the Charter has been passed by the House of Representative without giving consideration to the JLU’s research and its findings.

1. Luton, Dariane (23 March, 11) Parliament Passes Charter of Rights Jamaica Gleaner
2. Devonish, Hubert (13 Jan 02) Language rights, justice and constitution Jamaica Gleaner
3. BEP Webpage