About 2,000 French teenagers have voluntarily signed up for the first round of the Service National Universel (SNU) set up at the request of President, Emmanuel Macron.
The SNU is a civic service, not a military one, but by 2026 it will become compulsory for all young people aged 16.
Each year, the 800,000 French members of that age group, boys and girls alike, will be obliged to join.
Proof of participation will be required to be able to learn to drive; take the end of high school exam, the baccalauréat, which is necessary to enrol in higher education; obtain other State diplomas; take the Public Service examination, and so on.
Young people who refuse will be allowed to catch up with their SNU between ages 18 and 25, for two months instead of one, to avoid sanctions.
Critics say having this kind of service for 16-year-olds negates parental rights, with parents or legal guardians having no say as to whether their children may participate or not, nor will the parents be allowed to refuse a given venue or type of activity or civic work.
The first SNU session resulted in youngsters from a dozen selected Departments travelling as far afield as French Guiana to spend two weeks together in various locations for “cohesion training”.
This training statutorily takes place in a region of France other than the student’s home location.
The second part of the service takes place closer to home, during another two weeks dedicated to a “mission of general interest”.
For this year’s volunteers, this service will take place between now and the end of June 2020, focused on a personal commitment with Government-approved organisations ranging from firefighters, the military, to police and environmental groups.
Paris, 22 June 2019