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There is no single youth law in Austria, but several laws for different youth-related topics. Furthermore, a Youth Strategy (Österreichische Jugendstrategie) is in place. There is currently no discussion on a single comprehensive youth law.
Laws relating to children and young people
The most important regulations of the legal system are a system of protective provisions and rights of co- and self-determination graded by age. The protection of minors is of particular relevant in this regard. These laws regulate significant fields of youth policy:
- 9 provincial youth protection laws (Jugendschutzgesetze der Länder) in the nine Federal States (recently aligned but not fully harmonised)
- Federal Youth Representation Act (Bundes-Jugendvertretungsgesetz)
- Federal Youth Promotion Act (Bundes-Jugendförderungsgesetz)
- Regulation on the assessment of impacts on young people (Verordnung über die Abschätzung der Auswirkungen auf junge Menschen)
Protection of minors
The laws for the protection of minors is there to beware young people from difficult situations. In practice, this includes age-specific regulations relating to the access to certain places, hitch-hiking, theatre, cinema and pub visits, the use of arcade/ gambling machines and the consumption of alcohol and cigarettes.
The Federal States are responsible for the specific age-related grading system. The territorial principle applies, according to which young people are subject to the regulations of the Federal State they are currently in.
As of January 2019, the youth protection laws have been harmonised, however there are still 9 different laws, one for each Federal State. While details differ, generally young people under 16 can't buy and (publically) consum alcoholic beverages, and distilled alcohol ('hard liquor') and tobacco can't be bought (consumed) until the age of 18.
The Austrian Youth Information centres provide an overview for young people of these regulations on the Website of the Austrian youth portal (Österreichisches Jugendportal). A general overview is also provided on österreich.gv.at.
Young people come of age upon reaching the age of 18, which means that the laws on the protection of minors then no longer apply.
Further age-related regulations
Upon reaching the age of 6, children have the obligation to attend school for nine years (Schulpflicht). After completion of compulsory schooling, all persons under the age of 18 permanently residing in Austria are obliged to pursue further education or training (AusBildung bis 18).
From the age of 10, a guardianship court must hear children in matters of custody, care and education, such as divorce cases (§105 Außerstreitgesetz). From the age of 14, young people have limited legal competence and the right of sexual self-determination (Geschäftsfährigkeit von Kindern und Jugendlichen). They have the right to choose their religion and to be a part of the decision-making process regarding vocational and school education.
Young people of 14 years are subject to criminal responsibility (Strafbarkeit von Jugendlichen). Young people are allowed to enter full-time employment from the age of 15 (Arbeit und Jugendliche). They are allowed to vote from the age of 16 on (Wahlrecht). All citizens who have reached the age of 18 by the day of the election have the right to be elected. At the age of 18, young people come of age and thus gain the full capacity to act and full legal competence (Geschäftsfährigkeit von Jugendlichen). The right to be elected as Federal President is dependent on the right to vote in the National Council and on having reached the age of 35 on the day of the election.
Federal Youth Promotion Act (Bundes-Jugendförderungsgesetz)
The Act is in force since 2000 and was last modified in 2018. Its objective is the promotion of measures of extracurricular youth education and youth work, for the purpose of furthering the development of the mental, psychic, physical, social, political, religious and ethical competencies of children and young people. The federal youth organisations applying for basic promotion are obligated 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.
Federal Youth Representation Act (Bundes-Jugendvertretungsgesetz)
The Act is in force since 2000 and was last modified in 2001. The measures provided in this Act are to ensure the representation of young people's concerns before the political decision-makers on a federal level. It legally establishes the Austrian Federal Youth Representation(Bundes-Jugendvertretung) 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 set on an equal footing with the statutory interest groups of employees, business people, farmers and the Austrian Senior Citizens' Council. The organisation encompasses, among others, both Youth associations and open youth work.
The National Youth Council is thus the statutory representative body for young people in Austria. The 56 member organisations and three extraordinary members range from those based on political parties and churches to representatives of open youth work and ethnic groups and minorities and also include the provincial youth advisory committees. It is tasked with lobbying for young people and promoting greater involvement of young people in political decision-making processes, bringing 'young' topics to public attention, representing youth policy-related interests vis-à-vis the National Council, the government and the public, enabling an information flow between member organizations, and representing the interests of Austria’s youth on the European and International level.
Regulation on the assessment of impacts on young people (Verordnung über die Abschätzung der Auswirkungen auf junge Menschen)
In force since 2013, the law establishes the 'Youth Check', an impact assessment, for all new laws. It obliges 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. The Youth Check is intended to broaden the adult perspective and enable an even more child-friendly society in Austria.
The 9 provincial youth protection laws (Jugendschutzgesetze der Länder)
As of January 2019, the youth protection laws have beenharmonised, however there are still 9 different laws, one for each Federal State. While details differ, generally young people under 16 can't buy and (publically) consum alcoholic beverages, and distilled alcohol ('hard liquor') and tobacco can't be bought (consumed) until the age of 18. Unaccompanied youths are - with some differences between Federal States - allowed to go out from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m/11 p.m. for youths under 14, from 5 a.m. to 1 a.m. for youths between 14 and 16, and unlimited for youths 16 and older.
Juvenile Court Act (Jugendgerichtsgesetz, JGG)
The Act is in force since 1988 and was last modified in 2019. It adjusts the formal criminal law relating to young offenders.
The sentencing ranges are in many cases lower than for adults. Juveniles within the meaning of the Act are persons between 14 and 18 years of age. Essentially, the maximum of threatened custodial sentences for juveniles is reduced to half and a minimum is omitted. The maximum fine is also reduced by half.
For young adults between 18 and 21 years of age, the minimum term of imprisonment is generally the same as for juveniles, and the sentence may not be more severe than 15 years. However, since 1 January 2020, young adults are subject to the general threats of punishment if the offence is punishable by a maximum term of imprisonment of at least five years and the offender has committed one of the following offences: a criminal offence against life and limb, an offence against sexual integrity and self-determination, an offence under Section 25 of the Special Part of the Criminal Code (genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes), a punishable offence as a member of a criminal organisation, or the leading and participating in a terrorist organisation. However, a maximum of 20 years' imprisonment may be imposed in these cases.
In terms of the proceedings, juveniles between 14 and 18 years of age who are accused of a criminal offence are mandatorily assigned a defence counsel in proceedings before the regional courts for the entire proceedings as well as in proceedings before the district courts, if this is necessary or expedient in the interest of the administration of justice, in particular to safeguard the rights of the juvenile. Moreover, their legal representative also has the right to be heard and to be present at investigations or hearings of evidence. The public is also to be excluded from the main hearing in the criminal proceedings ex officio or upon application if this is in the interest of the juvenile. In criminal proceedings for a criminal offence committed by juveniles, the appointed jurors must have a professional relationship with juveniles (e.g. as a teacher, educator or have worked in youth welfare).
Child and Youth Employment Act (Kinder- und Jugendlichen-Beschäftigungsgesetz)
The Act is in force since 1987 and was last modified in 2018. It implicates, that children up to the age 15 as well as up to the end of their compulsory education are not allowed to work, not even in course of an apprenticeship. There are only very few exceptions to this. For young people up to the age 18, particular rules for working hours and off-times exist, as well as provisions on which work they may not yet be entrusted with.
Youth Education Assurance Act (Jugendausbildungs-Sicherungsgesetz)
The Act was in force from 1998 to 2011 and was last modified in 2008. It regulated additional offers of apprenticeships in terms of a safety net for young people seeking an apprenticeship training position after graduating from compulsory education.
Federal Child and Welfare Act 2013 (Bundes-Kinder- und Jugendhilfegesetz 2013)
The Act is in force since 2013 and was last modified in 2018. Based on the Austrian constitution, legal regulations for child protection and welfare are set up by the federal government (guidelines) as well as by the provinces (implementing law). In 2013 the Federal Child and Youth Support Act) was adopted, which sets up new guidelines for child protection and welfare. If a child is in need of care and protection and is unlikely to receive it at home local Youth Services (Jugendamt) has a duty to ensure they receive appropriate care and may place the child in care by way of 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.