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EACEA National Policies Platform
Germany

Germany

5. Participation

5.1 General context

Last update: 4 January 2023
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  1. Definitions and concepts
  2. Institutions of representative democracy

Definitions and concepts

In a general sense, participation refers to "the voluntary participation by individuals in structuring social relationships and accomplishing shared tasks". In a stricter sense, it is the "participation by the public in shaping political structures and the democratic formation of political will". Since the end of the nineties, public participation has been seen as a "mechanism for unlocking centralised and bureaucratic political and administrative structures". In addition to the structures of representative democracy, there are many forms of participation that give the public a voice, such as participatory budgeting, civic initiatives and citizen councils. (German Association for Public and Private Welfare, 2011).

Since the Eighth Youth Report of the Federal Government, participation has been a widely recognised and guiding principle for the professional practice of child and youth welfare (Deutscher Bundestag 1990, p. 88ff.). The formulations of that time continue to find approval even today: “If the aim of life-oriented youth welfare is to help people to experience them-selves as subjects of their own lives, then participation is one of its constituent elements. [...] Participation is first and foremost a question of legal position; [...] participation is above all a question of co-determination” (Deutscher Bundestag 1990, p. 88).

UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

Germany is a signatory of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is committed to implementing these rights in national law. The United Nations defines children as all people under the age of 18. Section 12 (1) of the Convention describes young people's right of participation as follows: "States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child." The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is considered a simple federal law.

National level (Bund)

The Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany (Grundgesetz, GG) grants all people – including young people – the right of petition and the right to freedom of expression (Sections 5 and 17). These rights form the basis for their participation in political dialogue. The Child and Youth Services Act (Kinder- und Jugendhilfegesetz) in Book 8 of the Social Code (Sozialgesetzbuch Achtes Buch, SGB VIII) is one of the main pieces of legislation that defines the participation of children and young people in Germany. This national law provides the framework for legislation in the federal states (Länder) in the field of child and youth welfare.

 The following sections are particularly relevant:

1. Section 8 (on the involvement of children and young people in decisions that affect them), 2. Section 11 (on youth work and young people's participation in shaping youth work services), 3. Section 12 (on funding for youth organisations and the active involvement of young people in shaping the work of youth organisations), 4. Section 14 (on educational child and youth protection), 5. Section 17 (on counselling for partnership, separation and divorce issues and the involvement of children and young people), 6. Section 36 (on involvement in decisions relating to help with parenting and help with integrat-ing children and young people with psychological disorders) 7. Section 74 (on funding for independent child and youth services), and 8. Section 80 (on child and youth services planning).

Since its inception, Book 8 of the Social Code (SGB VIII) has been reformed several times; most recently, the so-called Child and Youth Strengthening Act (KJSG) came into force in June 2021. A key objective – in the spirit of the aforementioned Eighth Youth Report – was to strengthen the legal position and opportunities for participation of children and young people. On the one hand, a number of new regulations were introduced. Particularly worthy of note are a new, very extensive right to counselling (Section 10a, Book 8 of the Social Code (Sozi-algesetzbuch Achtes Buch, SGB VIII)) and the introduction of independent ombudsman’s offices (Section 9a, Book 8 of the Social Code (SGB VIII). It is also important that youth wel-fare offices should in future cooperate with, encourage and promote organisations of young people and their parents that are permanently self-organised and related to youth welfare (Section 4a, Book 8 of the Social Code (SGB VIII). This opens up the possibility for the rele-vant initiatives and organisations of young people to represent their interests and concerns directly.

On the other hand, the KJSG is a first important step towards inclusive child and youth wel-fare, i.e. child and youth welfare that provides services for all children and adolescents, and thus also for children and adolescents with disabilities. In the context of the law, the afore-mentioned opportunities for participation are to be designed in future in such a way as to ena-ble children and young people with different forms of disability to participate also. The law therefore stipulates that services – and thus participation – should be made possible in a form that is clear, comprehensible and tangible to them and that potential barriers must be removed (Section 8 (4) and Section 9 (4) Book 8 of the Social Code (SGB VIII).

The fact that participation in child and youth welfare is both mainstreamed as a legal standard and understood as a standard for practice can also be seen in other guidelines.The Guidelines for awarding grants and benefits to promote child and youth services under the Federal Child and Youth Plan (Richtlinien über die Gewährung von Zuschüssen und Leistungen zur Förderung der Kinder- und Jugendhilfe durch den Kinder- und Jugendplan des Bundes, KJP) include participation as one of the ten goals of child and youth services. The guidelines say:

Young people have a right of participation. At the same time, democracy and civil society depend on the participation of young people. A core requirement of child and youth services is that they create opportunities for young people to get involved, to actively shape their own lives, to influence the initiatives offered by child and youth services organisations and, where necessary, to express their dissatisfaction. For these requirements to be met, child and youth organisations must provide and develop participation-friendly structures and processes that invite young people to confidently and effectively represent the issues that matter to them. Creating opportunities for participation also means giving young people the encouragement and skills to get actively involved and represent their interests. Taking responsibility and developing the necessary self-confidence to do so are skills that young people have to learn and experience first-hand. It is thus a task of child and youth services to provide age-appropriate opportunities that support this goal and develop or expand these opportunities as necessary. (Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth [Bundesministerium für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend, BMFSFJ] 2016, page 811).

Section 1 (6) of the Federal Building Code (Baugesetzbuch, BauGB) says that urban planning processes must pay special attention to the social and cultural needs of young people. It also requires urban planning departments to inform the public about all plans at the earliest possible stage. Section 3 sets out the public's right to information and the right to freedom of expression regarding the plans presented. The Code does not define who constitutes "the public" but does specifically include children and young people as belonging to this group.

Other laws on the participation of young people are covered in part in:

Federal state level (Länder)

The laws on the participation of children and young people vary widely across the federal states. Some state constitutions now include basic rights for children and young people as standard. If necessary, these can be used as the basis for rights of participation. Frame curricula and syllabuses or the school acts in the states (Schulgesetze) include as standard the requirement of schools to ensure pupils get actively involved in shaping their school environment.

The state-level implementing laws on Book 8 of the Social Code (Sozialgesetzbuch Achtes Buch, SGB VIII) also standardise some participation rights that go above and beyond the requirements of the Child and Youth Services Act (Kinder- und Jugendhilfegesetz).

 

Local level

Some federal states (Länder) include child and youth participation at a local level in their municipal codes, district regulations, or district administration acts. Not all are legal requirements: some are recommendations or advisory guidelines and are found either in the municipal codes or, in some cases, in the acts on child and youth services. Below is an overview of the different local rules:

Federal state

Rule

Baden-Württemberg

Required for young people/recommended for children

Bavaria

-

Berlin

-

Brandenburg

Required

Bremen

Advised/required (municipality of Bremerhaven)

Hamburg

Required

Hesse

Recommended

Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania

-

Lower Saxony

Recommended

North Rhine-Westphalia

Advised

Rhineland-Palatinate

Recommended

Saarland

Advised

Saxony

Recommended

Saxony-Anhalt

Recommended

Schleswig-Holstein

Required

Thuringia

-

 

See also Young People's Participation in Policy-Making

Institutions of representative democracy

Germany is a federal republic with 16 federal states (Länder). It is a parliamentary democracy. Its constitutional organs are the German parliament (Bundestag), the Federal Council (Bundesrat), the Federal President (Bundespräsident), the Federal Government (Bundesregierung) and the Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht).

The German parliament (Bundestag) is elected directly by secret ballot by eligible voters every four years. The Parliament elects the Federal Chancellor (Bundeskanzler) in a secret ballot. The Federal Council (Bundesrat) is made up of members of the state governments. Federal states (Länder) with larger populations are represented more strongly than small states. On a regional level, state parliaments (Landtage) are elected. On a local level, local councils (Gemeinderäte) are elected. A mayor (Bürgermeister) will usually preside over the local council.

In Germany, members of the European Parliament are elected in a general, direct, free, equal and secret vote. The election takes place under the principles of proportional representation using the party-list system. Members of the German parliament and the state parliaments, as well as representatives in local elections, are elected in a general, direct, free, equal and secret vote. The German parliament is elected for a term of four years. Members of the state parliaments are elected to office for a term of four or five years depending on the state.

German law establishes the right to vote.

 
Voting

Voting in elections on a European, German parliament (Bundestag), state parliament (Landtag) and local level is done by posting a voting slip in a ballot box or by postal vote. Voters with disabilities (Section 57 of the Federal Electoral Regulations [Bundeswahlordnung]) can ask another person to help them vote. The helper must be aged 16 or over (Section 66).

Only citizens on the electoral roll or who have been issued a ballot paper can vote. Individuals on the electoral roll receive an election notice. They can only vote in their registered constituency, unless they have been issued with a ballot paper. A ballot paper can be requested in order to be able to vote by post or to vote at a different polling station in the voter's constituency (e.g., because the first polling station is not accessible). Postal voting is possible without the need to give a legitimate reason.

German citizens living abroad who are not registered in Germany are not automatically entered on the electoral roll. If they wish to vote in German parliament (Bundestag) elections, they must apply to be entered on the electoral roll before every election. See Federal Electoral Regulations (Bundeswahlordnung).