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Citizenship and Responsibility

What is Citizenship?

When a person has citizenship of a particular country they have certain rights in that country. For example, a citizen of a caribbean country has the right to vote, get a passport and run for public office.

Citizenship is about taking an active part in society. It is about how we live together in our communities and about how we ‘get on' locally, nationally and globally. It is about ensuring that everyone has the knowledge and skills to understand, engage with and challenge the main pillars of our democratic society - politics, the economy and the law.

Citizenship is therefore about being a member of a community, and making a good contribution to that community. We are all members of many different communities: our family; our school; our local area; our village, town or city; our country; our world. It is important to understand and act in a responsibile way in each of these communities.

Why is citizenship important?

The values of democracy, justice, equality and inclusion have been long fought for but are easily neglected and abused. This is especially true when faith in politics is low and economic times are tough.

The best way to guard these values is to develop well-informed, educated citizens with the confidence and appetite to take part in society; to question injustice and to drive change.

The best way to guarantee a brighter future for all is to create a society in which we all understand our rights and responsibilities and in which everyone is equipped, and ready, to play an active part.

Developing citizenship means becoming a productive, responsible, caring and contributing member of society. It includes:

  • being successful in school;
  • making responsible decisions;
  • caring about others;
  • contributing to society;
  • developing social and personal skills, such as reflective problem solving, accepting a variety of perspectives, and setting and attaining goals; and
  • developing a core set of common values.

Characteristics of Citizens

The defining characteristics of citizen competency and responsibility include:
  • Civic and Political Knowledge: Information about our history and government; basic understanding of democracy and democratic principles; information and resources for electoral participation; and the understanding of institutions and important current events.
  • Civic and Political Skills: Skills necessary to participate in civic and political life including speaking and writing, critical thinking, an ability to listen to other perspectives, a sense of social capital and a comfort with the give-and-take process of consensus-building in a democracy.
  • Civic Attitudes: Respect for diverse viewpoints; belief in the importance of participation in political processes and civic life; understanding of the common good; sense of social and civic efficacy; appreciation of participation in public and civic life; an interest in politics with an intention to vote; and an openness to political persuasion.
  • Political Participation: Engagement in traditionally political activities such as voting, attending public meetings, education and advocacy on public issues and voicing opinions through letters to elected officials or the media.
  • Community Participation: Active participation in voluntary organizations such as church, neighborhood associations, youth groups, etc.
  • Civic Commitments: A sense of personal responsibility in society; a willingness to participate in mutual endeavors and to address common needs; and a commitment to making change to promote or maintain equity and fairness.

Profile of the Twenty-First Century Caribbean Citizen

The Caribbean should be seen as that part of the world where the population enjoys a good quality of life with the basic needs of food, clothing, shelter, health care and employment being all virtually satisfied. The environment should be one which provides clean air and water, unpolluted seas and healthy communities - an environment that has not been destroyed by the development process.

The Ideal Caribbean Person should be someone who among other things:

  • is imbued with a respect for human life since it is the foundation on which all the other desired values must rest;
  • is emotionally secure with a high level of self confidence and self esteem;
    sees ethnic, religious and other diversity as a source of potential strength and richness;
  • is aware of the importance of living in harmony with the environment;
  • has a strong appreciation of family and kinship values, community cohesion, and moral issues including responsibility for and accountability to self and community;
  • has an informed respect for the cultural heritage;
  • demonstrates multiple literacies independent and critical thinking, questions the beliefs and practices of past and present and brings this to bear on the innovative application of science and technology to problems solving;
  • demonstrates a positive work ethic;
  • values and displays the creative imagination in its various manifestations and nurture its development in the economic and entrepreneurial spheres in all other areas of life;
  • has developed the capacity to create and take advantage of opportunities to control, improve, maintain and promote physical, mental, social and spiritual well being and to contribute to the health and welfare of the community and country;
  • nourishes in him/herself and in others, the fullest development of each person's potential without gender stereotyping and embraces differences and similarities between females and males as a source of mutual strength.

Rights and Responsibilites of Citizens

In a democratic society, individuals and groups are free to decide their own actions. These decisions to act may either help or hurt the communities in which they live. An important part of being a citizen in any community is understanding that you have rights and responsibilities. These are often supported by "rules" about the way people should behave.

Rights - things that we are entitled to (this is how people should be treated), for example we have a right to our nationality.

Responsibilities - things we have a duty to do (this is how we should treat others), for example we have a responsibility to protect the world's environment.

Rules - most communities have rules about the way people should behave. Rules affecting families may be formal, for example the law about attending school. At other times they can be informal, for example your family may have its own rules about who tidies up different parts of the house.

Political Rights and Responsibilities of a Citizen

It is generally understood that citizens have certain rights such as:

  • the right to vote in elections;
  • the right to join a political party;
  • the right to take part in public meetings;
  • the right to voice a political opinion;
  • the right to join a union;
  • the right to join an action group;
  • freedom of speech;
  • freedom of the press, and
  • freedom of religion.

Responsibilities of a Citizen

Here are some examples:

  • enrol on the electoral register;
  • vote carefully and sensibly;
  • keep well-informed;
  • obey the laws of the land;
  • serve on a jury, if asked;
  • pay taxes;
  • defend the country if necessary, and
  • be active in community life.

Taking Responsibility

Good citizens can be counted on to consistently demonstrate in everyday life honesty, respect, courage, and other core citizenship values. Children who grow up to be productive and contributing citizens are much more than academically successful. The world of work requires individuals who are capable of managing their own health and well being, and who have the skills necessary for problem solving, self direction, self motivation, self reflection, and life-long learning.

Advocating the five themes of citizenship - honesty, compassion, respect, responsibility, and courage - is not enough. Exploring those themes, talking about them, and making connections between those themes and your students' lives are the keys to developing a true understanding of the concepts.

But first let's have a few words about each of the themes:

  • Honesty is the basic theme of good citizenship. A person must be honest with others, and with himself or herself, in order to be a good citizen.
  • Compassion is the emotion of caring for people and for other living things. Compassion gives a person an emotional bond with his or her world.
  • Respect is similar to compassion but different in some ways. An important aspect of respect is self- respect, whereas compassion is directed toward others. Respect is also directed toward inanimate things or ideas as well as toward people. For example, people should have respect for laws. Finally, respect includes the idea of esteem or admiration, whereas compassion is a feeling people can have for others they don't necessarily admire.
  • Out of honesty, compassion, and respect comes Responsibility , which includes both private, personal responsibility and public responsibility. Individuals and groups have responsibilities. Responsibility is about action, and it includes much of what people think of as good citizenship. You may wish to point out that one of the main responsibilities of students is to learn. They must educate themselves so that they can live up to their full potential.
  • Finally, the theme of Courage is important to good citizenship. Human beings are capable of moving beyond mere goodness toward greatness. Courage enables people to do the right thing even when it's unpopular, difficult, or dangerous. Many people - including Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King Jr., Ghandi, Errol Barrow and Eric Williams - have had the courage to change the rules to achieve justice.

Criminal Responsibility

The age of criminal responsibility means the age at which a person can be prosecuted for a crime. It should be the age at which they understand the consequences of a crime and take full responsibility for that crime.

At what age do you think a child or young person is old enough to stand trial?

The age of criminal responsibility varies from country to country. The table below shows the age within some Caribbean countries.

Country Age of criminal responsibility
Barbados 7
Belize 7
Cuba 16
Grenada 7
Netherland Antilles 12
St. Kitts and Nevis 8
St. Vincent and the Grenadines 12
Suriname 10
Trinidad and Tobago 7
UK Overseas Territories 10

The Ombusman

The institution of the ombudsman, first created in Sweden more than 200 years ago, is designed to provide protection for the individual where there is a substantial imbalance of power.

Initially, this imbalance was between the citizen and the state but as the institution has developed, it has embraced other sectors.  Ombudsmen now exist, not just in the public sector, but also covering the private and independent sectors.

As well as considering complaints about public services, Ombudsman Association member schemes consider disputes between consumers and companies or between universities and students, for example.

However, in the private sector, coverage is fragmented and sparse with, in a very few cases, some duplication (where the ‘industry member’ can choose which scheme to belong to). None of this is ideal, but will require legislation to improve the situation as few sectors now readily establish schemes voluntarily.

What ombudsmen do

The Ombudsman’s office has four principal functions. The office:

  • Receives, investigates and resolves complaints about the administrative decision making and practices of the public sector, local government and universities.
  • Improves public administration for the benefit of all Western Australians through own motion investigations and education and liaison programs with agencies.
  • Reviews certain child deaths and family and domestic violence fatalities.
  • Undertakes a range of additional functions that fit within the broad category of integrity oversight, including inspections of telecommunications intercepts and investigation of public interest disclosures.

The Ombudsman always observes an independent and impartial approach to the conduct of investigations as well as observing procedural fairness at all times. Information obtained by the Ombudsman in an investigation is confidential. At the conclusion of an investigation, the Ombudsman may make formal recommendations, including to:

  • refer the matter to another agency;
  • rectify administrative actions;
  • vary administrative practice;
  • reconsider the law which underpins administrative action; or
  • give reasons for a decision.

The Ombudsman places a strong emphasis on making practical recommendations about significant matters. The Ombudsman does not make recommendations unless it is considered that they will be beneficial to the public. The Ombudsman also considers the costs recommendations will have for agencies.

In the private sector, ombudsmen usually have the power to make recommendations which are binding on the bodies in their jurisdiction unless successfully challenged through the courts.  The cost of their services is normally met by a charge to the bodies in their jurisdiction.  Most are established by, or as a result of, statute, and the relevant industry or sector is obliged to participate in the scheme.

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