The head of a human rights charity warned that prejudice against red-haired people is “not just ‘harmless jokes'” and that red-haired children must be protected.

Chrissy Meleady, CEO of Equity and Human Rights UK, told the Star of Sheffield that “bullying of redheads is one of the last socially accepted forms of prejudice against people for a trait they were born with.”

Activists and redheads have been trying to change these attitudes for years. Redheads around the world yesterday celebrated Kiss a Ginger Day, created in 2009 with the aim of “making up for the much less fun Kick A Ginger Day that takes place in November,” explained days of the year.com.

But “unfortunately there is a long history of making fun of red-haired people in the UK,” said Great British magazine, a site for international students. And although “attitudes have progressed,” cases of “ginger and exclusion” are still common.

Rights activist Meleady spoke out after a teaching assistant at a Sheffield primary school lost a wrongful dismissal complaint last week. An employment tribunal has heard that John Brelsford was fired after being accused of bullying and “humiliating” students, the Star of Sheffield reported.

The reported incidents included an internet search for “gingerphobia” during a lesson, which “led to a red-haired child in the class getting teased by his classmates and getting angry.”

Although gingivism could be presented as just a ‘joke’, human rights activist Meleady, ‘who is herself a redhead,’ argued that such so-called jokes can ‘rob red-haired children’ of their positive identity and their self-confidence, ”said The telegraph.

“And worse, it can lead to refusals to go to school, health issues, self-injurious behaviors and even kids wanting and trying to kill themselves,” added Meleady, who received an MBE in 2000 for its services to children.

She told the Sheffield Star that she recently witnessed a case of “a family physically assaulting their baby for having red hair as they equated his red hair with ‘devil’s mark'” .

Another family, which sought to adopt, said that “they would accept any child of any race, social background, nationality, sexual orientation, various genders, disabled, but that they” could not support a child with red hair “” she continued.

Meleady called for action to protect young redheads, “not only against gingivism or anti-redhead prejudice and abuse from other children, but from members of the school and other circles who model the ‘bullying and abuse of redheaded children’.

Between 1% and 2% of the world’s population has red hair, but the figure is much higher in England, at 6%, and even higher in Scotland, at 13%.

In 2013, genetic researchers thought they had “developed a powerful tool to fight against the harassment of certain redheads in Great Britain”, Reuters reported. The Scottish team found that up to one in three Britons carry red genes, which means that even if they are not themselves red, “their future children or grandchildren could be”.

Alastair Moffat of ScotlandsDNA, who carried out the analysis, told the news agency that showing how many Britons have the ginger gene could help end the stigma that “ruins the lives” of many redheads.

The research was published months after a teenage girl committed suicide after being teased about her red hair. After her death, the father of Helena Farrell, 15, from Cumbria, “demanded that discrimination against redheads be classified as a hate crime,” said The Telegraph.

Prince Harry also spoke of being “harassed to be red-haired”, according to the Daily mail. In 2007, the royal reportedly told a teenager who won an award for his advice that his colleagues in the military “dubbed him ‘Ginger Bullet Magnet'” and bought ginger wigs as a joke.

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