1.2 National youth law
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Existence of a National Youth Law
In Austria, the regulation of youth-related topics is carried out through several laws instead of a single comprehensive youth law. The Austrian Youth Strategy, which is in place from 2020 to 2024 (see chapter 1.3), further supports the development and well-being of young people. Despite this, there is no current discussion on the implementation of a single comprehensive youth law.
The legal system in Austria is designed to protect young people by providing them with a set of protective provisions and rights of co- and self-determination that are graded by age (Jugendrechte). These laws significantly influence the fields of youth policy, including the following regulations (see further Scope and contents):
- The Federal Youth Representation Act (Bundes-Jugendvertretungsgesetz) aims to represent the interest of young people to ensure their participation in political decision-making processes.
- The Federal Youth Promotion Act (Bundes-Jugendförderungsgesetz) provides financial support for youth organizations and initiatives.
- The Regulation on the Assessment of Impacts on Young People (Verordnung über die Abschätzung der Auswirkung auf junge Menschen) ensures that any legislation or policy that may affect young people is evaluated from a youth perspective.
- The nine Provincial Youth Protection Laws (Jugendschutzgesetze der Länder), which are the responsibility of the Federal States, aim to protect young people by setting age-specific regulations regarding access to certain places, activities, and substances, such as alcohol and cigarettes.
In addition to the protection of minors, Austria also has laws and regulations to protect the rights of children and young people. The country has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which outlines the rights of children and young people in various areas, including education, healthcare and protection from abuse and exploitation.
There are several other age-related regulations in Austria that apply to young people. At the age of 6, children are required to attend school for a period of nine years (Schulpflicht). After completing compulsory schooling, all individuals under the age of 18 who are permanent residents in Austria are obliged to pursue further education or training until they turn 18 (AusBildung bis 18).
From the age of 10, a guardianship court must consider the opinions of children in matters of custody, care, and education, particularly in divorce cases (§105 Außerstreitgesetz). At 14 years old, young people have limited legal competence and the right to sexual self-determination (sexuelle Kontakte zwischen Jugendlichen). They also have the right to choose their religion and participate in decision-making regarding vocational and school education.
From the age of 14, young people can also be held criminally responsible (Strafbarkeit von Jugendlichen). In addition, adolescents are allowed to take up full-time employment from the age of 15 (Arbeit und Jugendliche). The right to vote is granted at the age of 16, and those who have reached the age of 18 can be elected to political office (Wahlrecht in Österreich). However, the prerequisite for running for Federal President is the right to vote for the National Council and the minimum age of 35 years on the day of the election.
Reaching the age of 18 marks the end of legal minority in Austria, and young people are then considered adults with full legal competence (Geschäftsfähigkeit von Jugendlichen). As a result, the laws and regulations that apply to minors, such as those related to youth protection, no longer apply to them.
Overall, Austria has several age-related regulations that provide a framework for the protection and development of young people. These regulations aim to ensure that young people have access to education and training, as well as the freedom to make decisions related to their personal lives, while still remaining a level of legal protection that is appropriate for their age and level of maturity.
Scope and contents
In Austria, there are several laws dealing with the promotion and protection of young people. These laws cover various aspects of youth development, including education, employment and legal rights. In the following, important regulations applied for this purpose are explained in more detail.
- The Federal Youth Promotion Act (Bundes-Jugendförderungsgesetz), which has been in force since 2000 and was last modified in 2018, aims to promote extracurricular youth education and youth work, in order to further the development of mental, physical, social, political, religious, and ethical competencies of children and young people. Federal youth organisations that apply for basic promotion are required to conduct continuous quality assurance (Qualitätssicherung) according to § 6 para. 1 Z 6 of the Federal Youth Promotions Act and § 13 para. 4 respectively of the Federal Youth Promotions Act’s guidelines. Self-evaluation is proposed as the mode of action.
- The Federal Youth Representation Act (Bundes-Jugendvertretungsgesetz), enacted in 2000 and last amended in 2001, ensures the representation of young people’s concerns before political decision-makers at the federal level. It establishes the Austrian Federal Youth Council (Bundes-Jugendvertretung, BJV) as the representation of interests and political lobby for people up to 30 years of age in Austria. In matters that may affect the interests of Austrian youth, the Federal Youth Council is on an equal footing with the statutory interest representations of employees, the economy, farmers and the Austrian Senior Citizens’ Council. It includes the youth associations and open youth work and has the task of lobbying for youth, promoting greater participation of youth in political decision-making processes and representing youth policy interests vis-à-vis the National Council, the government and the public.
- The Regulation on the Assessment of Impacts on Young People (Verordnung über die Abschätzung der Auswirkung auf junge Menschen), which has been in force since 2013, establishes the ‘Youth Check’, an impact assessment, for all new regulatory projects/laws. It requires all ministries to systematically review legislative projects in advance with regard to their impact on children and young people. This raises awareness for the special concerns and needs of children and young people, with the aim of enabling an even more child- and youth-friendly society in Austria.
- The 9 Provincial Youth Protection Laws (Jugendschutzgesetze der Länder) in Austria, have been harmonized as of January 2019. However, there are still 9 different laws, one for each Provincial State. While details may differ, in general, young people under 16 are prohibited from buying and publicly consuming alcoholic beverages, and distilled alcohol (‘hard liquor’) and tobacco can’t be bought or consumed until the age of 18. Unaccompanied youths have different restrictions depending on the Federal State. Generally, youths under 14 are allowed to go out from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. or 11 p.m., youths between 14 and 16 are allowed to go out from 5 a.m. to 1 a.m., and youths 16 and older have unlimited freedom to go out. The Austrian Youth Information Centres offer young people an overview (Übersicht) of these regulations on the Website of the Austrian Youth Portal (Österreichisches Jugendportal). A general overview is also provided on osterreich.gv.at (in German).
- The Juvenile Justice Act (Jugendgerichtsgesetz, JGG), established in 1988 and last amended in 2019, adjusts criminal law for young offenders. The sentencing ranges are lower than for adults and apply to persons between 14 and 18 years of age. Custodial sentences for juveniles are reduced to half, and there is no minimum. For young adults between 18 and 21 years of age, the minimum custodial sentence is the same as for juveniles, and the sentence may not exceed 15 years. However, since 2020, young adults are subject to general threats of punishment for certain offences. Juveniles accused of a crime are assigned a defense counsel in proceedings before district courts, and their legal representative has the right to be present during investigations or the taking of evidence. The public can be excluded from the main hearing in criminal proceedings if it is in the juvenile's interest.
- The Child and Youth Employment Act (Kinder- und Jugendlichen-Beschäftigungsgesetz), present since 1987 and last modified in 2018, prohibits children up to the age of 15, as well as up to the end of their compulsory education, from working, even in the course of an apprenticeship. There are only very few exceptions to this. For young people up to the age of 18, particular rules for working hours and off-times exist, as well as provisions on which work they may not yet be entrusted with.
- The Federal Child and Welfare Act (Bundes-Kinder- und Jugendhilfegesetz 2013), established in 2013 and last modified in 2018, sets guidelines for child protection and welfare in Austria. The Act is based on the Austrian constitution, and regulations are set up by both the federal government (guidelines) and the provinces (implementing law). The Act states that if a child is in need of care and protection and is unlikely to receive it at home, the local Youth Services (Jugendamt) is responsible for ensuring that they receive appropriate care. The child may be placed in care through a voluntary care agreement with the parent(s)/guardian(s) or through a court order.
Revisions and updates are to be found at Scope and contents for each law respectively.