Social rights and their significance
Keshav Gharti Magar
“Our problems stem from our acceptance of filthy, rotten system”- Dorothy Day
There is no concrete definition of social rights but they can be called subject rights because social rights are the rights of subjects or the people under the constitution arising from the social contract. In other words, these rights are different from natural rights deriving from the natural law. It is said that the state is built by the people. No supernatural or divine power has created or built it. Therefore, every state has a duty to protect its citizens, particularly those people who belong to disadvantaged individuals, group and communities.
In the 21st century, almost all states in the world are considered public welfare states. Public welfare means that states are supposed to guarantee the social rights of their people. So, these rights are closely connected with human rights and are important to everyone. Strictly speaking, social rights are connected to the right to life of every person. When a child is born, s/he becomes a member of the society and as a social member, s/he gets social rights.
Social rights are based on the ideas of equality and guaranteed access to essential social and economic goods, services, and opportunities irrespective of one’s religion, opinion, caste, race, gender and so on. Because people are first human beings and secondly, they are members of society.
Although social rights are closely related to human rights and right to life of every person, the history of these rights doesn’t seem to be very old nor do the states mention clearly that these rights are the social rights in their respective constitutions and Acts. This doesn’t mean that social rights have not been addressed by any countries. These rights are addressed by many countries for many years but not in the concrete or codified form but in conjunction with other rights i.e. human rights, fundamental rights, civil rights, political rights etc.
It means these rights were not codified for a long time. In 2015, the Council of Europe issued a policy recommendation for its member states to promote access to social rights for young people from disadvantaged neighborhoods. Social rights are based on the ideas of equality and guaranteed access to essential social and economic goods, services, and opportunities irrespective of one’s religion, opinion, caste, race, gender and so on. Because people are first human beings and secondly, they are members of society. Additionally, these rights can be understood as an understanding of what is required to satisfy people’s social needs by promoting social inclusion and social solidarity.
In this way, social rights are not only moral and social rules but legal rules as well. But many commentators have distinguished these rights from civil rights. According to them, civil rights are absolute and must be provided in any civilized society whereas social rights are relative or are necessarily contingent on a society’s level of economic development.
What kinds of rights come under social rights?
In my understanding, as a member of society, all the rights of any person related to food, shelter, cloth, health, education, social security, etc. belong to social rights. However, we should keep in mind that these rights tend to promote social inclusion and social solidarity. It means children and young people from poor, disadvantaged, marginalized community, etc. are given priority to get them to access to quality education, secure employment, health care etc.
Primarily, the following can be mentioned under social rights:
- Access to adequate food;
- Access to an adequate standard of living or housing;
- Access to education and training;
- Access to employment;
- Access to health service;
- Access to quality public service;
- Access to social safety or protection based on respect, not sanction;
- Access to social rights for disadvantaged, minority and marginalized social groups etc.
Social rights are as important as society. Just as it is difficult to imagine a person without society, so it is difficult to imagine a person without social rights in today’s age. It means social rights are closely connected with the lives of natural persons living in a society. They are very important to everyone particularly to disadvantaged, minority and marginalized individuals, groups or communities. Since these rights include above mentioned things i.e. From access to adequate food to social safety or protection; equality, well-being and dignity of any person are the hub of these rights. Without social rights, as a matter of facts, no one can survive or live peacefully.
Getting food for surviving is his/her social right that a state must fulfill because state is like a guardian of the people and the people are like her offspring.
Any person be like a paralyzed patient in absence of social rights and we know that the paralyzed person can’t move his/her body despite having full body parts. Let’s clarify it with some examples. If a baby is born in a poor family then obviously, he becomes poor and he won’t have proper foods to eat. In that case, he has a right to adequate food which is one of the social rights. Getting food for surviving is his/her social right that a state must fulfill because state is like a guardian of the people and the people are like her offspring. So, it’s the duty of the state to guarantee the social right of the peoples in a public welfare state. Similarly, if a person is born, by birth, s/he get right to life. No one can harm him or her. if his/her right not to be harmed by others is violated, the state must take stern steps through its various mechanisms against wrong-doer and should make every effort to compensate the victim and save his or her life.
The significance of social rights is increasing day by day all over the world i.e. from UN to various countries. On the one hand, these rights are incorporating core values of every society such as equality, dignity, fairness, freedom etc. by providing detailed guidance for policy and practice. One the other hand, these rights are establishing a culture of accountability for social policies. Here, accountability is to be understood in many forms ranging from ballot box to the media to the court premises.
Although, social rights bring happiness and peace in the society and widely relevant to the “everyday lives” of millions of people, these rights are facing powerful opposition as well. In short, it can be said that these rights are emancipatory, empowering, and transformative.
Social rights in Nepal
Nepal is an underdeveloped/a middle income developing country but some social rights have been addressed or incorporated in the constitution of 2015 A.D. since its preamble. Most of the social rights are addressed under or in the name of the fundamental rights and duties. The major social rights can be mentioned as follows:
- Right to freedom;
- Right to equality;
- Right against untouchability and discrimination;
- Right to freedom of religion;
- Right against exploitation;
- Right to clean environment;
- Right relating to education;
- Right to language and culture;
- Right to employment;
- Right to labour;
- Right relating to health;
- Right relating to food;
- Right to housing;
- Rights of women;
- Rights of the child;
- Rights of Dalit;
- Rights of senior citizens;
- Right to social justice;
- Right to social security;
- Rights of the consumer.
- Right to constitutional remedies.
Out of these rights, some rights such as right relating to education, right to employment, right relating to health, food, housing are very serious and sensitive matters in the current situation. It would not be exaggeration to say that these rights are only confined in the piece of paper. Today, thousands of people are dying due to starvation, thousands of thousands of children are illiterate or are deprived of going to schools. Many peoples are dying for not getting treatment on time. Millions of educated and uneducated people have gone abroad for employment or are bound to leave for foreign countries. But the state or government has done nothing to address the above-mentioned burning issues in practice as mentioned in the constitution.
The way forward
In order to advance and protect social rights, first the legislature should make laws addressing the fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution. In the absence of law, no case is generally allowed to enter the ordinary courts and can not be enforced or executed accordingly. Due to lack of adequate resources and means, Nepal can not guarantee all the mentioned fundamental rights (social rights) in practice, but the state or government can guarantee the social rights of the people in general by controlling widespread stinking and tragic corruptions. To promote and protect social rights of the people, executive and legislative determination are urgently required. The pressure from social groups advocating social rights of the people is also needed. Social rights literatures should be written effectively and broadly by addressing many issues including health, education and work. Also, judicial determination or the role of the court should be crucial and active so that social rights can be strongly advocated and argued before the courts. For this, first, the judges should have the appropriate expertise, and secondly, they shouldn’t be conservative.
To promote and protect social rights of the people, executive and legislative determination are urgently required. The pressure from social groups advocating social rights of the people is also needed.
Social rights are often viewed and analyzed by linking to human rights, fundamental rights, legal rights, political rights, civil rights, etc. Except for a few countries including the revised European social charter, most countries have incorporated social rights into their constitution and laws without naming them social rights. And the importance of social rights is expanding across the world. People started to say housing is a social or human rights and education is a right not a commodity, etc. As social rights deal primarily with how people live and work together and the basic needs of life, they are gaining momentum. It is not difficult to implement explicit social rights in practice, but to implement implicit social rights, the door of the court must be knocked eventually that depends on the systems of the concerned country. In this regard, Ms. Dorothy Day said, “our problems stem from our acceptance of filthy, rotten system.”. But at last we shouldn’t forget that social rights are not a panacea.
Published on 24 July 2022
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