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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Day 374: Constitutions, Freedom Charter, Bill of Rights - What's the Point?

http://www.info.gov.za/documents/constitution/1996/a108-96.pdf - Constitution of South Africa

http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/ - The Universal Declaration of Human Rights - United Nations

What is the point of a constitution, bill of rights or freedom charter if the rights contained therein are not actually implemented? In government, there is a difference between writing an Act or paper and implementing said Act or paper. The one is the policy of the government and the other is the decision of the government - the decision to write an Act or paper.

A policy is a relatively stable, purposive course of action or inaction followed by an actor or set of actors in dealing with a problem or matter of concern. With this definition in mind, we can safely say that it is the policy of most governments to not implement human rights as laid out within their constitutions. There are countries that do not have a constitution, they are a whole other kettle of fish.

I shall use South Africa as an example as it is where I live, and I see on a daily basis the blatant disregard for human rights.
  • Everyone has the right to have access to adequate housing: A large proportion of the population of South Africa lives in shacks made from scrap materials. The public housing that the government provides is akin to concentration-camp conditions. The current political party that instituted the Constitution has been in power for 20 years, and many citizens live in worse conditions than they did in the apartheid-era - I am not condoning or agreeing with apartheid!
  • Everyone has the right to an environment which is not detrimental to their health or wellbeing: People live in shacks. People share pit toilets. People drink out of an wash in rivers. People live near factories. I could go on...
  • Everyone has the right to fair labour practice: It is common labour practice for employers to exploit and underpay employees as people are so desperate for work.
  • Freedom from servitude or slavery" We are all slaves to money and do extremely unpleasant things in order to get it, if we have no other choice.
  • Everyone is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and benefit of the law: Sure, if you can pay for a good lawyer. That, and many illiterate, or uneducated people don't have the first clue as to what rights they even have, and so end up getting screwed over.
  • Every child has the right to nutrition, shelter, basic healthcare and social services: Malnutrition amongst South African children is high, especially the homeless children or those whose parents do not earn enough or care enough to feed them. 
  • Everyone has the right to basic education, including adult education: Even if every child were to have access to, or remain in school, it would be of no use as the education system is in such shambles that they would come out without acceptable skills anyway. The current pass rate for matric maths is somewhere around 10%, but a large portion of students will stop going to school by grade 10. Teachers are incompetent and the curriculum is ineffective. 
You get the idea.

So, what is the point of a constitution, if it is the policy of the government to not implement it?

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