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EACEA National Policies Platform


1. Youth Policy Governance

1.1 Target population of youth policy

Last update: 8 March 2024

Germany has a large number of laws dealing with the needs and rights of young people (see 1.2. National youth law > Existence of a national youth law). These laws apply different age limits to define youth and young people. The list below shows the age limits found in key laws with the word "youth" or similar in their title.

Section 7 of Book 8 of the German Social Code – Child and Youth Services (Sozialgesetzbuch Achtes Buch – Kinder- und Jugendhilfe, SGB VIII) includes different age groups to define "youth":

  • Child: any person under the age of 14,
  • Adolescent: a person that has turned 14 already but not yet 18,
  • Young person that has attained full age: a person that has turned 18 already but not yet 27,
  • Young person: a person who has not turned 27 yet.

Section 1 of the Protection of Young Persons Act (Jugendschutzgesetz, JuSchG) uses the following definitions:

  • Child: any person under the age of 14,
  • Young person: a person that has turned 14 already but not yet 18.
  • The Act further differentiates between young people who are 14 or 15 years old, and young people who are 16 or 17 years old. 

Section 2 of the Young Persons (Protection of Employment) Act (Gesetz zum Schutze der arbeitenden Jugend, JArbSchG) uses the following definitions:

  • Child: any person under the age of 15,
  • Adolescent: any person that has turned 15 already but not yet 18.

However, the law considers young people aged 15 and over as children if they are still in compulsory full-time education.
Section 1 of the Youth Courts Act (Jugendgerichtgesetz, JGG) distinguishes between juveniles and young adults:

  • Juvenile: any person who is 14 but not yet 18 years old (at the time of the offence).
  •  Young adult: any person who is 18 but not yet 21 years old (at the time of the offence). 

The Act to Promote Youth Voluntary Services (Gesetz zur Förderung von Jugendfreiwilligendiensten, JFDG) targets young people who have left compulsory full-time education up until reaching the age of 27. This Act thus also includes young adults under the term "youth".

This (incomplete) overview of the different legal age limits used to define "youth" shows the lack of a uniform legal definition of the transition phase between adolescence and adulthood, and that context plays a large role in interpretation. Exceptions to this are established concepts such as child protection, which applies to all minors (any person under the age of 18).

The Federal Youth Board (Bundesjugendkuratorium) published an expert synopsis in 2020 of the various legal age limits applied to young adults aged 18 to 27 (Rechtsexpertise Gesetzliche Altersgrenzen im jungen Erwachsenenalter) along with explanations and contexts. The experts found that different laws use different words to describe the stage of life after reaching the age of majority. For example, SGB VIII refers to "young persons that have attained full age" (junge Volljährige) and for subsets of this group it uses "young people" (junge Menschen); JGG calls them "young adults" (Heranwachsenden); and Book 2 of the German Social Code – Basic Security for Jobseekers (Sozialgesetzbuch Zweites Buch – Grundsicherung für Arbeitssuchende, SGB II) speaks of "young adults" (junge Erwachsenen) or of "children" (Kinder) when placing them in the context of the parental relationship.

The report notes that the description of the stage of life after reaching the age of majority does not always coincide with the defined upper age limits.

Some youth-related policy documents and reports use their own standards or standards oriented to other laws. For example: both the 15thChild and Youth Report (15. Kinder- und Jugendbericht) (see 1.6 Evidence-based youth policy) and the federal government's Youth Strategy (see 1.3. National youth strategy) consider young people to be any person aged between 12 and 27. A youth check competence centre (Kompetenzzentrum Jugend-Check) set up in 2017 looks at planned policy changes across all federal ministries and assesses their potential effects on young people aged 12 to 27. 

The Federal Statistical Office (Statistisches Bundesamt, Destatis) also refers to a range of age groups in specific contexts:

  • 15 to 24 years when talking about youth unemployment/employment or youth and family.
  • 15 to 19 years when referring to accidents, violence or self-harming behaviour.
  • 15 to 27 years when referring to the number of foreign young people born in Germany.