1.2 National youth law
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Although the French State has no general law on youth, it is the subject of specific laws drawn up by various ministries working on behalf of young people.
In addition, the French state ratified the 1989 International Convention on the Rights of Children (Decree No. 90-917 of 8 October 1990 on the publication of the Convention on the Rights of Children) in 1990, which establishes a protective legal framework for all children and recognises their rights.
France is also a signatory to the European Convention on the Exercise of Children's Rights, adopted in 1996 in the framework of the Council of Europe.
While being varied in content, laws bearing on youth and implemented by the ministries concerned focus on protection, social and professional inclusion, and training.
Ministry in charge of Education and Youth & Ministry in charge of Higher education
One of the major pieces of legislation concerning youth is the Education Code, established by Ordinance No. 2000-549 of 15 June 2000. This code compiles all the laws and regulations in force in the field of education and higher education. It defines the general principles of education, the administration of education and the organisation of education. It is divided into two parts, a legislative part and a regulatory part.
The Education Code includes two recent amendments: (indicative examples)
Law n ° 2019-791 of July 26, 2019 for a school of trust: this law, enacted in 2019, reforms the secondary education system and introduces new principles such as lowering the age of compulsory education from six to three.
Law No. 2022-299 of 2 March 2022 to combat school harassment. This law creates an offence of school harassment and can punish it with up to 10 years' imprisonment, thus amending the Education Code and the Penal Code.
Ministry in charge of youth
The Ministry in charge of Youth is responsible for :
- developing policies for young people, commitment, popular education and community life
- the regulation of group childcare facilities for minors outside the parental home and outside school hours, and monitoring compliance with this legislation.
The code of social action and families regulates the protection of minors and sets the safety standards for collective facilities for minors and young people (reception and leisure centres). (legislative part: articles L227-1 to L227-12 and regulatory part: articles R227-1 to R227-30).
In addition to the code of social action and families, decrees and circulars frame and define the non-formal education sector (indicative list):
Decree of 25 April 2012 (supervision, organisation of certain physical activities);
Decree of 3 November 2014 (prior declaration for the reception of minors);
Decree of 15 July 2015 (on non-professional diplomas in socio-educational activities: BAFA and BAFD);
Decree of 28 February 2017 (extracurricular supervision + 80 days/+ 80 minors);
This law, amending the national service code, provides for the institution of a voluntary civic service, intended to replace the civil service set up by the law of 31 March 2006. Its objective is the involvement and commitment of young people in favour of civic or solidarity initiatives. This scheme is managed by the civic service agency, placed under the supervision of the ministry in charge of youth.
Ministry in charge of health and prevention
Social Action and Family Code
The Social Action and Family Code was created in 1953 by Decree no.56-149 of 24 January 1956. Formerly known as the Family and Social Aid Code, it compiles all legislative and regulatory provisions bearing on social action and the family. The corpus also includes major texts from the Ministries responsible for youth, education and health.
It specifies and defines the main objectives of social measures intended, among other things, for “disabled children and teenagers”. It describes the various forms of social aid and action (family associations, social aid to families, family education and counselling, reception of young children, social inclusion actions, départemental social inclusion schemes, support funds for young people in difficulty, etc.).
Act No. 2022-140 of 7 February 2022 on the protection of children amends the Social Action and Family Code, the Civil Code and the Social Security Code to provide enhanced protection and support for children from the child welfare system (ASE).
Law No. 2022-219 of 21 February 2022 aimed at reforming adoption amends the Code of Social Action and Families and the Civil Code in order to secure recourse to adoption and to strengthen the status of "wards of the State".
Ministry of Justice
Laws relating to the Ministry of Justice are mainly designed to protect young people, minors in particular, combat juvenile delinquency and foster social integration of young delinquents.
Juvenile justice has long been a concern of France’s public authorities, which, in 1945, adopted an ordinance bearing on “delinquent childhood” – Ordinance no.45-174 of 2 February 1945 – which sought to limit repressive measures and replace them with educational measures. Since 1945, a whole series of ordinances, decrees and laws bearing on protection of children and teenagers has been adopted, setting the legal framework for protection of minors.
In 2019, in the context of the reform of the justice system, the Government reformed the Ordinance of 2 February 1945 bearing on delinquent childhood.
The Ordinance of 11 September 2019, bearing on “the legislative part of the Juvenile Criminal Justice Code”, created the legislative part of the Juvenile Criminal Justice Code replacing the Ordinance of 2 February 1945 bearing on delinquent childhood.
The new Code reiterates the general principles applicable to juvenile justice, including:
- the primacy of the educational over the repressive;
- the special nature of juvenile justice;
- attenuation of responsibility depending on age, with the age of criminal majority still set at 18.
The Code introduces a presumption of non-discernment for delinquent minors under 13 years of age: “Minors under thirteen years of age are presumed to be incapable of discernment”. It also modifies the criminal procedure applicable to delinquent minors.
Law No. 2021-478 of 21 April 2021 aimed at protecting minors from sexual crimes and incest amends the Penal Code by creating new sexual offences of which children can be victims.
Ministry in charge of labour
The law on professional training, employment and social democracy of 5 March 2014, promulgated on 5 March 2014, offers employees prospects for qualification, training and professional advancement throughout their careers.
In addition, it creates the Personal Training Account (Compte personnel de formation - CPF), which aims to increase the level of qualification of everyone. It has been operational since 1 January 2015. The personal training account (CPF) can be opened from the age of 16, but young people aged 15 who have signed an apprenticeship contract are also covered by the CPF. The personal training account is attached to each individual and follows them throughout their working life.
The law for the freedom to choose one’s professional future of 5 Septembre 2019
Among other things, this law, enacted by the President of the Republic on 5 September 2019, reforms apprenticeship and vocational training. It aims to ensure better guidance with a view to increasing the attractiveness of this training path as “a path of passion, excellence and future success, for young people, families and companies alike”.
The law also institutes measures for apprentices:
- The possibility of signing an apprenticeship contract until the eve of one’s 30th birthday;
- an increase of €30 net a month for apprentices under 21 years of age studying for the Certificate of Professional Aptitude (CAP) or Professional Baccalaureate;
- obtainment of €500 in financial assistance for adult apprentices wishing to take the B category driving license test.
Young French people’s rights and obligations differ depending on their situation. They arise either from children’s rights, when they are minors, or common law once they have reached the age of majority.
Only a few individual “youth-specific” rights exist; young French people generally benefit from (social) rights as their parents’ “assignees” (family benefits, social security membership, tax incentives, etc.) and enjoy few direct social rights of their own. Diverses studies published by the National Institute for Youth and Non-Formal Education emphasises this point, explaining it partly by the overall “familiarization” of young people’s benefits.
Young people can nonetheless be informed on their rights. Ensuring that young people know their rights is one among many focuses of public youth policies, largely because they are all too often ignorant of them.
Amenities providing information on rights have been in existence since the 1980s, House of Justice and Rights and Access to Rights Points, alongside collaborative work between associations promoting young people’s education and access to their rights and local public stakeholders (municipalities and schools). Reliable, objective, non-specialised information on all aspects of young people’s daily lives is also provided by a network of youth information facilities (around 1,500 of them across the country) financed by the State and local authorities.
In addition, programmes designed to raise young people’s awareness of their rights are developed in partnerships between the Ministries of Justice and Education, associations promoting access to rights, judges’ associations, and the Defender of Rights, an independent State institution created in 2011 and enshrined in the Constitution, whose missions are “the defence of persons whose rights are not respected and equal access to rights for all”. The Defender of Rights’ Educadroit programme, for example, raises awareness of and provides training in their rights among children between 6 and 12 years old as well as adults who are professionally involved with children.
The government plans to strengthen the system of public service centres (Maison France service), which are not specifically dedicated to young people but whose mission is to facilitate access to public services for all inhabitants through information and support, particularly in rural areas and disadvantaged urban neighbourhoods. There are currently 2,428 "public service houses" in the country, an increase of almost 50% since 2020 (1,340 houses).
The Ordinance of 2 February 1945 bearing on delinquent childhood is one of several regulatory texts concerning young people that has gone through numerous revisions (40 in all). These various amendments have concerned the modalities for implementing repressive and educational measures as well as criminal (penal) procedure.