Emancipation;Project citizenship

22nd October 1999 at 01:00
Gerald Haigh explores what it means to have a say in how society is run

Rights and responsibilities

The right to vote is taken for granted now. When you are 18 you will be able to vote. That's one of your rights - the right to choose the government you want. It wasn't always like that. In Britain women couldn't vote before 1918. Other rights go with the right to vote.

Some of them are:

* The right to speak your mind without being punished.

* The right to go to whichever church or temple you want.

* The right to be fairly treated by the police and courts if they say you have done wrong.

* Some countries, like the USA, have these rights firmly written down in a constitution or a Bill of Rights. In others - Britain, for example, - the rights are enshrined in legal decisions (known as case law and precedent), Acts of Parliament (legislation) and European law.

THINK AND TALK

Can you see that without these basic rights, democracy won't work properly?

It's no good having the right to vote if the other rights don't go along with it. If you can't speak up against the government, or if you can be thrown into prison for your beliefs, then the right to vote is not very useful. So when the leader of a country says "All our citizens have the right to vote," you need to ask whether the other rights are in place there as well.

The leaders of a country are elected by the people who are allowed to vote. Why should the leaders then allow other groups of people - including women, teenagers - to vote next time? Which of these reasons might it be?

* Because the people who can't vote are making a terrific fuss.

* Because the people who can vote think it's not fair that their wives and girlfriends and sons and daughters can't vote.

* Because the leaders think that the new set of voters is likely to vote for them.

* Because the leaders believe in fair play.

Rights go with responsibilities What rights would you like to have in school?

What responsibilities should you have to go along with them?

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