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JAMAICA | Justice Minister to take Obeah off the law books

Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck to repeal the Obeah Act of 1898 Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck to repeal the Obeah Act of 1898
KINGSTON, Jamaica, Thursday June 6, 2019 – If Justice Minister Delroy Chuck has his way, the practice of Obeah which was made illegal by slave masters and placed on the books in 1898, may soon be removed from the books.

For several centuries, the practice was out-lawed in Jamaican as it was the exclusive preserve of Jamaican slaves for whom the practice was a part of their indigenous religious retention brought with them from Africa.

Despite efforts by the plantation owners to convert the slaves to Christianity, many held on to their old ways, their beliefs and their religion.

Lawmakers were about to push the maximum fine for the practice of Obeah under the Law Reform Programme, to one million dollar for anyone found to be dabbling in the practice.

The discussion about the Obeah Act unfolded after lawmakers briefly diverted from a debate on the Law Reform (Amendment of Penalties) Act, which was unanimously passed to provide significantly increased fines for a range of offences on the books with paltry fines.

The Law Reform (Amendment of Penalties) Act would have increased the fine for persons convicted of practising obeah from $100 to $1 million, but the legislation was amended to exclude the Obeah Act because of the plan to repeal it.

Questions were raised as to why this law was still on the books, as this was targeting only historically grassroots Jamaicans who were not a part of established religion, and had African cultural retention deemed to be illegal as a result of the nature of its practice.

The justice minister indicated that he has already instructed the Law Reform Department to craft another submission for him to take to Cabinet to have the 1898 Obeah Act repealed.

“I would like to bring, for us to debate here in his House, a bill for repeal of the Obeah law. It will be put in a broader concept in terms of scamming and other things,” Chuck announced in the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

“There is no reason, Mr Speaker, why the Obeah Act should still remain on the statute book, and we hope to remove it in due course,” he insisted.

A Cabinet submission for the repeal of the 121-year-old Obeah Act was submitted 44 years ago in 1975, but is still somewhere gathering dust.

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  • Countries: Jamaica

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