5.10 Current debates and reforms
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Lowering of the voting age
There are repeated calls to reduce the voting age to 16 or to better orient participation processes to younger age groups and specific target groups. Some federal states (Länder) have now lowered the legal voting age to 16: Brandenburg, Bremen, Hamburg, Schleswig-Holstein, Lower Saxony, Baden-Württemberg, Berlin, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, North Rhine-Westphalia, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia. More and more local authorities are now also lowering the voting age in local elections to 16. In federal and European elections, the legal voting age is still 18.
Children's rights in the Basic Law
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child has applied in Germany for 30 years. The current coalition agreement of the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (Christlich-Demokratische Union Deutschlands, CDU), the Christian Social Union in Bavaria (Christlich-Soziale Union in Bayern, CSU) and the Social Democratic Party of Germany (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, SPD) includes an important goal: to include children's rights as a basic right in the German Basic Law (Grundgesetz, GG). A joint federal-state working group is currently writing the change to the Basic Law. The working group met for the first time on 6 June 2018 and had drawn up a proposal by the end of 2019. The Federal Ministry of Justice (Bundesjustizministerium, BMJV) drafted a corresponding bill. The plan is to add a new paragraph (1a) under Section 6 saying: Every child has a right to respect, protection and the promotion of their basic rights including the right to cultivate their personal develop and to develop into a responsible and socially competent adult. All government actions that directly affect the rights of the child must take due consideration of the child's welfare. Every child has the right to a fair hearing with respect to government decisions that directly affect their rights.
Implementation of the Independent Youth Policy
Youth-friendliness played a central role in the further development of the federal government's joint Youth Strategy (Jugendstrategie). The coalition agreement for the 19th legislative period includes plans to develop and implement a youth-friendly strategy with the involvement of young people and civil society. The federal government's joint Youth Strategy aims to enable young people to influence all decisions that affect them, giving them the best tools available to overcome the challenges of early adulthood. The focal point of the federal government's Youth Strategy is "Shared responsibility: a policy for, with and by young people" (In gemeinsamer Verantwortung: Politik für, mit und von Jugend). It is directed at young people aged from 12 to 27. This is the first youth policy project of its kind involving all federal ministries in the Federal Republic of Germany. The cross-sectoral approach is the result of systematically implementing the principles defined in the Independent Youth Policy, which is oriented to the concerns of young people. The approach combines ministry-specific expertise with an integrated view of early adulthood. The policies in the Independent Youth Policy came about from broad-based discussions on youth policy between civil society and policymakers. The Federal Youth Ministry (Bundesjugendministerium) has pursued and further developed the policies over several years. The Youth Strategy reflects the federal government's responsibility for young people. The government is committed to giving all young people and young adults the conditions they need to flourish.
In November 2019 the Federal Youth Board (Bundesjugendkuratorium, BJK) published its opinion in the following document Young people in policy consulting. Recommendations for greater federal participation by the young generation (Junge Menschen in der Politikberatung. Empfehlungen für mehr Beteiligung der jungen Generation auf Bundesebene). In it, experts make recommendations as to how young people, with their concerns and interests, could be more closely and permanently integrated into federal policy consultation processes. The expert panel is particularly in favour of sustainable infrastructure, quality standards, differentiated monitoring and age-appropriate formats.
The Child and Youth Welfare Association (Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Kinder- und Jugendhilfe, AGJ) is a forum and federal network of alliances, organisations and institutions active in the field of non-statutory and open-door youth work in Germany. AGJ's 100 members take joint action in the area of youth and specialised policy communication and cooperation at federal level, as well as in a European and international context, and form a specialised policy network in the AGJ's six member groups:
- federal youth associations and youth councils (Landesjugendringe),
- federal umbrella associations for non-statutory welfare organisations,
- federal government youth services organisations,
- supreme youth and family authorities in the federal states (Länder),
- federal working committee for state youth welfare offices (Bundesarbeitsgemeinschaft Landesjugendämter),
- federal associations and organisations active in HR and training (vocational training and continuing professional development).
AGJ regularly publishes position papers and discussion papers on child and youth (services) policy. Papers include:
- Young people need more! – taking independent youth policy forward (Jugend braucht mehr! – Eigenständige Jugendpolitik voranbringen und weiterdenken), 2020
- Participation in the context of child and youth work (Partizipation im Kontext der Kinder- und Jugendarbeit), 2018
- Participation: why it's central to child and youth services and an open and free society (Teilhabe: ein zentraler Begriff für die Kinder- und Jugendhilfe und für eine offene und freie Gesellschaft), 2018
- Strengthen local child and youth participation! (Kommunale Kinder- und Jugendbeteiligung stärken!), 2015
Various agents have responded by putting forward their views, comments and recommendations on lowering the voting age:
- View of the German Children's Fund (Deutsches Kinderhilfswerk) on the right of children and young people to vote.
- View of the German Federal Youth Council (Deutscher Bundesjugendring) on reducing the mini-mum voting age
- Recommendations by experts and the expert group of the Independent Youth Policy Centre (Zentrum Eigenständige Jugendpolitik) on encouraging democratic participation by young people
Other current debates centre on:
- whether youth participation is seen as a regular element of citizens’ participation and what influence young people can have on citizens’ participation processes;
- how the potential of open data and digital tools can be used to promote youth participation; see also demokratielabore.de;
- the use of new technologies to promote youth participation, e.g., virtual reality and augmented reality applications (for instance, 360° videos in the context of urban planning projects).