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Teenagers storm Senate to vote for youth charter

FRANCE. Wisdom and experience gave way to youth for a day as teenagers took over the Senate, France's second parliamentary chamber, this month to adopt a young citizen's charter for the year 2000.

The 321 college (lower secondary) pupils who replaced the senators were finalists in a vast exercise in civil education - a nationwide competition to define a citizenship code for young people in the 21st century. They met in the sumptuous Luxembourg Palace - built for Marie de' Medici in the 17th century - which now houses the Senate.

Senate president Rene Monory officiated at the ceremony, which was also addressed by education minister Francois Bayrou. The text the young representatives voted for reflected their concern for others and worries over unemployment, racism and violence.

The winning charter has 12 articles based on different themes, the first of which specifies that "every person has the right to an education without distinction of age, sex, economic position and race". The second says that "employment and its recompense, the salary, through respect and dignity of man, must be a right for every individual". The charter also calls for "severe punishment" for acts of child abuse, and preservation of children's rights in the case of family break-up; state protection for young people against manipulation by cults or racist associations; and for children to be treated as people in their own right, with respect for their freedom and dignity.

Other articles covered the environment, Europe, fraternity and solidarity, liberty, culture and leisure, research, health, and prevention of violence. The competition, the first of its kind, was launched jointly last year by the Senate and the Ministry of Education. Nearly 20,000 pupils took part from schools throughout France and French schools abroad, producing more than 500 charters.

The 32 versions on the shortlist, chosen by a jury, were presented on the morning of the final to working groups of college students, who whittled them down to two for each article, with the junior senators taking the final vote in the afternoon session. The new charter, which is available on the Internet, is to be published in a government publication which gives information about new laws and government business.

Last year saw a Children's Parliament, for which primary-school pupils submitted draft proposals for legislation (TES, June 14, 1996). The winning entry, forbidding the separation of brothers and sisters placed in care, was subsequently adopted by the national assembly and became law.

* Jacques Chirac promised to eliminate illiteracy during his presidency, and called for a lighter school programme and promotion of multimedia technologies during a two-hour broadcast last week. He said his objective was for all third-year primary pupils to be able to read perfectly.

A parliamentary debate would be organised on what he described as a "clearly excessive" curriculum. He said all secondary schools should be connected to computerised networks (preferably French-language ones) by the year 2000 and he had asked the government to lower VAT on multimedia products and services.

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