1.2 National youth law
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Germany does not currently have a separate law in place at national or regional level that deals comprehensively with the needs and rights of young people. Instead, a number of different laws address the needs and rights of young people along with other related youth policy matters.
Some of these laws include the word "youth" or similar in their title and regulate in relative detail important areas of young people's lives. Other laws regulate the needs and rights of the general population, and include rules that affect young people. The table below lists many – but not all – of the federal laws that affect the lives of young people:
Content (affecting young people)
Last amended (as at January 2022)
Governing the services and structures of child and youth services including youth work and youth social work.
26 June 1990; new version 11 September 2002
10 June 2021 (Act to Strengthen Children and Youth, KJSG) and 5 October 2021 (act on all-day care for children of primary school age, GaFöG)
Regulating criminal law relating to young people.
4 August 1953; new version 11 December 1974
25 June 2021
Regulating the protection of children and young people in public, including restrictions on the sale, supply and consumption of legal drugs, access to films and computer games, gambling, and the presence of children and young people in restaurants and discos.
23 July 2002
6 April 2021
Regulating employment protection for young people, including working hours, overtime and holiday entitlement.
12 April 1976
16 July 2021
Regulating the Voluntary Social Year (Freiwilliges Soziales Jahr, FSJ) and the Voluntary Ecological Year (Freiwilliges Ökologisches Jahr, FÖJ).
16 May 2008
20 August 2021
Regulating proceedings in family matters, including divorce, parentage, adoption, estate.
17 December 2008
5 October 2021
Protecting the welfare of children and young people and promoting their physical, mental and emotional development.
22 December 2011
3 June 2021
Regulating adoption placement and prohibiting surrogacy.
2 July 1976; new version 22 December 2001
21 June 2021
JMStV is an agreement between all federal states (Länder) to ensure the same level of protection for young people across Germany. The regulations aim to prevent broadcasting and television services that could harm or endanger the development or upbringing of children and young people.
13 September 2002
7 November 2020
Regulating individual financial assistance for young people in training.
26 August 1971; new version 7 December 2010
22 November 2021
Regulating social assistance in Germany. Specific to young people, SGB XII covers the standard needs rates, training and participation expenses, and cost reimbursements for placement with another family, to name just a few.
27 December 2003
10 November 2021
Regulating legal relationships between private individuals. Specific to young people, it regulates areas such as the age of majority and capacity to contract.
18 August 1896, new version 2 January 2002
21 December 2021
Specific to young people, it regulates areas such as vocational training assistance.
24 March 1997
10 December 2021
Aiming to enable recipients to live a dignified existence by providing basic security for jobseekers.
24 December 2003; new version 13 May 2011
22 November 2021
StGB only applies to criminal acts by young people and adolescents where such acts are not covered by the provisions of the Youth Courts Act (Jugendgerichtsgesetz, JGG).
15 May 1871; new version 13 November 1998
22 November 2021
Setting out regulations for people with disability and people at risk of disability. Specific to young people, SGB IX contains rules on the scope of application, and support for young apprentices with disability.
23 December 2016
27 September 2021
Regulating young people's right to vote (aktives Wahlrecht) and right to be elected (passives Wahlrecht).
7 May 1956; new version 23 July 1993
3 June 2021
The Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (Bundesministerium für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend, BMFSFJ) is the federal authority responsible for youth and child and youth services. At regional (Länder) level, it is the ministries for education and/or social affairs (> Section 1.4. Youth policy decision-making). However, the laws listed here are developed mostly outside of the youth department. Youth policy – i.e. policies targeting young people, their needs and rights – is decided by all departments and ministries that develop and implement laws which affect the lives of young people (such as the departments of labour, social affairs, or health). In other words, youth policy is spread across a number of departments already at the federal level, and is laid out in a multitude of acts. The development of the federal government's Youth Strategy (> Section 1.3 National youth strategy) served to strengthen the idea of establishing a cross-sectoral youth policy coordinated by BMFSFJ.
At the federal level, non-curricular institutional roles and responsibilities relating to young people in Germany, in particular the provision of youth work, youth social work and child and youth services, are assigned to the youth department.
As at federal level, specific departments in the federal states (Länder) are responsible for youth and for implementing child and youth services. In addition, further responsibilities pertaining to young people lie with the ministries in question. A number of sections in Book 8 of the Social Code (SGB VIII) stipulate that the Länder can or indeed have to adopt their own acts to implement the Child and Youth Services Act (Kinder- und Jugendhilfegesetz) (e.g., sections 15, 13a, 26, 49, 71). These acts, together with the school acts in the federal states, are important instruments under Germany's federal structure (> Section 1.4.1. Policy-making) that regulate large parts of the lives of young people.
It must be noted that despite the legislative role of the federal government and the Länder, the provision of child and youth services under Book 8 of the Social Code is largely the responsibility of the local level. In practice, it is the local providers of child and youth services (youth welfare offices/Jugendämter) that do so in cooperation with independent providers (freie Träger). In autumn of 2020, Germany had 559 youth welfare offices.
Municipal constitution acts (Kommunalverfassungsgesetze) and municipal codes (Gemeindeordnungen) in the Länder also offer supporting regulations. Many states regulate young people's participation in planning matters and projects related to their interests in the municipal constitution acts and municipal codes. Whilst some are legal requirements, others are recommendations or advisory guidelines, meaning that young people either can be involved (e.g., section 41a of the municipal code of Baden-Württemberg (Gemeindeordnung Baden-Württemberg), should be involved (e.g., section 36 of the municipal constitution act of Lower Saxony (Niedersächsisches Kommunalverfassungsgesetz) or must be involved (e.g., section 47f of the municipal code of Schleswig-Holstein (Gemeindeordnung Schleswig-Holstein) (> Section 5 Participation).
Lastly, a few words on the relationship between youth policy and education policy. Education policy in Germany is decided by the federal states (Länder). The Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany (Grundgesetz, GG) says that the 16 federal states largely have sole legislative competence for schools and education. These powers mean each state decides for itself on how the education system is organised and how educators are trained. The federal states coordinate supra-regional issues, like the mutual recognition of school-leaving qualifications, at the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs (Kultusministerkonferenz, KMK).
Education policy, in the context of youth policy as described above, affects large parts of the lives of young people, making it an important part of youth policy. Despite this, there is still a relatively clear division in Germany between a) formal education and education policy, and b) the field of non-formal and informal education, which is taught via youth work and other channels. Discussions are held regularly on this issue. Questions include: How can youth work initiatives be incorporated into all-day schooling programmes? Or: Which non-formal and informal learning opportunities are available in schools? This relationship leads to overlaps in discourse on youth policy and education policy.
This section only looks at those laws containing the word "youth" or similar in their title from the large body of federal legislation addressing the needs and rights of young people (> Section 1.2.1. National youth law).
Book 8 of the German Social Code – Child and Youth Services (Sozialgesetzbuch Achtes Buch – Kinder und Jugendhilfe, SGB VIII) regulates many of the services and responsibilities of child and youth services. These relate to, in particular:
- Youth work, youth social work, educational child and youth protection.
- Supporting education in the family.
- Supporting children in day-care facilities.
- Socio-educational support services.
- Help with integrating children and young people with mental health problems.
- Assistance for young persons that have attained full age.
- Child protection.
SGB VIII also says who is responsible for organising and providing these services. It thus provides the legal basis for these responsibilities at federal, regional (Länder) and local authority level, supported by non-statutory child and youth service organisations (> Section 1.4.1. Structure of decision-making).
Quite a few provisions of SGB VIII are directed at specific young target groups and/or at assistance for specific target groups. These are:
- Children and young people with psychological impairments (Sections 27 to 40).
- Young people who have attained full age (Sections 27 to 41a, 86a).
- Unaccompanied refugee minors (Sections 42, 88a).
The Youth Courts Act (Jugendgerichtgesetz, JGG) regulates juvenile criminal law. A juvenile (young person aged 14 to 17 years) shall bear criminal liability if, at the time of the act, they have reached a level of moral and intellectual maturity sufficient to enable them to understand the wrongfulness of the act and to conduct themselves in accordance with such understanding (Section 3 JGG). Youth criminal law is only applied to young adults (aged 18 to 20 years) if, at the time of the act, they were still equivalent to a juvenile in terms of their moral and intellectual development, or the type, circumstances and motives of the act indicate that it constituted youth misconduct (Section 105 JGG).
The Protection of Young Persons Act (Jugendschutzgesetz, JuSchG) regulates youth protection in public and the media. This includes the presence of young people in restaurants, amusement arcades, at potentially harmful events and establishments, and film events, as well as their use of gambling services, alcoholic drinks, smoking in public, and tobacco products, and the rating of films and film and game programmes.
The Young Persons (Protection of Employment) Act (Jugendarbeitsschutzgesetz, JArbSchG) specifies the conditions under which under-18s are allowed to work. This relates to working time and free time, and to bans and restrictions on employment.
As the federal states (Länder) are solely responsible for legislation on the organisation of schools and education (> Section 1.2.1 Existence of a national youth law), each state has its own school act (Schulgesetz) on the rights and obligations of pupils, educators, parents and schools. The school acts play a major role in young people's lives, but unlike the laws listed above they are not enacted by the federal government. The Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs (Kultusministerkonferenz, KMK), where all of the state culture and education ministries come together to coordinate their activities, published an overview of the German education system as part of the European Information Network on Education in Europe (EURYDICE).
The Federal Law Gazette (Bundesgesetzblatt) announces all changes and additions to laws. Below is a list of changes to the laws listed in Section 1.2.2. Scope and contents.
Book 8 of the German Social Code – Child and Youth Services (Sozialgesetzbuch Achtes Buch – Kinder und Jugendhilfe, SGB VIII) from 1991 has been changed and amended quite a few times since it first came into effect nationwide. 41 amending laws have been enacted since 2007. Some relate to individual paragraphs, whilst others concern a number of regulations. Below are a few examples of changes and amendments:
- Child and youth services legislation was extended in response to amendments in Books 7 and 8 of the Social Code (SGB VII and VIII), leading to the adoption of the Act on the Further Development of Child and Youth Assistance (/Kinder- und Jugendhilfeweiterentwicklungsgesetz, KICK) of 8 September 2005.
- The Children Promotion Act (Kinderförderungsgesetz, KiföG) of 2008 introduced a legal claim to a childcare place for all children aged between 1 and 3.
- The Federal Child Protection Act (Bundeskinderschutzgesetz, BKiSchG) came into effect on 1 January 2012 to strengthen the active protection of children and young people. A supplementary law regulates cooperation and information in child protection matters (Gesetz zur Kooperation und Information im Kinderschutz, KKG). The German Federal Child Protection Act reflects amendments to Books 8 and 9 of the German Social Code (Sozialgesetzbuch Achtes/Neuntes Buch, SGB VIII/IX) and the German Act on Assistance to Avoid and Cope with Conflicts in Pregnancy (Schwangerschaftskonfliktgesetz, SchKG).
- Section 42 of Book 8 of the Social Code (SGB VIII) was amended in response to the migration policy crisis. The Act to Improve the Accommodation, Care and Assistance for Unaccompanied Foreign Children and Young People (Gesetz zur Verbesserung der Unterbringung, Versorgung und Betreuung ausländischer Kinder und Jugendlicher) came into effect on 1 November 2015 and occasioned amendments to the German Residence Act (Aufenthaltsgesetz, AufenthG) and the Nationality Act (Staatsangehörigkeitsgesetz, StAG).
- After a first attempt at a draft bill failed in 2017, 2021 saw major legislative changes in the shape of the Act to Strengthen Children and Youth (Kinder- und Jugendstärkungsgesetz, KJSG). The act seeks encourage greater participation on the part of young people, parents and families, improve child protection, better local prevention and more assistance for children and young people who live in foster care or receive socio-educational support. It also represents a move towards more inclusive child and youth services in that child-rearing, education, encouragement and assistance are provided from a single source to children both with and without disabilities (> Chapter 4. Social inclusion).
- Shortly after the KJSG came into force, the new act on all-day care for children of primary school age (Ganztagsförderungsgesetz, GaFöG) came into effect. It ensures that primary school-age children who enter first grade in the 2026/27 school year have a legal claim to all-day care until the point they enter fifth grade.
The Youth Courts Act (Jugendgerichtgesetz, JGG) was changed most recently at the end of 2019 following the implementation of two EU Directives in national law (EU Directive 2016/800 "on procedural safeguards for children who are suspects or accused persons in criminal proceedings" and EU Directive 2016/1919 "on legal aid for suspects and accused persons in criminal proceedings and for requested persons in European arrest warrant proceedings"). The updated JGG includes procedural safeguards to ensure that children and young adults who are suspects or accused persons in criminal proceedings can understand and follow the proceedings, and exercise their right to a fair trial.
Generally speaking, most updates to the Youth Protection Act are to incorporate new sources of danger to young people at the time, e.g., alcopops (2004), passive smoking (2007 and 2009), e-cigarettes (2016) and the implementation of the European framework decision on combating the sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children and child pornography (2008).
The last major amendment to the Youth Protection Act of 1 May 2021 largely served to protect children and young people from dangers encountered online. The law requires internet providers to put in place effective measures to guard children and adolescents from harm. The existing Federal Review Board for Media Harmful to Minors (Bundesprüfstelle für jugendgefährdende Medien) is to be expanded to become a Federal Agency for Child and Youth Protection in the Media (Bundeszentrale für Kinder- und Jugendmedienschutz).
The Young Persons (Protection of Employment) Act (Jugendarbeitsschutzgesetz, JArbSchG) has also been changed quite a few times. The last major update modernised and strengthened areas relating to vocational education and training and took effect on 1 January 2020 (Act to modernise and strengthen vocational education and training [Gesetz zur Modernisierung und Stärkung der beruflichen Bildung]).