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Child and Youth Services in Germany

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Tasks and fields of work > Mission and claim

Right to autonomy and democratic participation

Child and youth services is aligned with Germany’s Basic Law and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Basic Law recognises individuals’ right to autonomy and participation in democratic society. These fundamental rights also extend to children and adolescents.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is also legally binding upon child and youth services. It requires that the rights of children and young people to participation must be respected.

Child and youth services supports children and adolescents in exercising these rights in their institutions and in society as a whole.


Article 1 of Germany’s Basic Law, the constitution, states:

“(1) Human dignity shall be inviolable. To respect and protect it shall be the duty of all state authority. (2) The German people therefore acknowledge inviolable and inalienable human rights as the basis of every community, of peace and of justice in the world."

Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights reads:

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

Germany’s case law follows Kant in its definition of autonomy as the foundation of dignity. Germany’s Basic Law considers that “it is part of the nature of human beings to exercise self-determination in freedom” (Federal Constitutional Court judgment dated 15 February 2006, reference 1 BvR 357/05). It follows that human beings may not be objectified through government action.

That said, autonomy must always be understood in the context of the social and societal environment. The freedom to exercise autonomy must be reconciled with the freedoms of one’s fellow members of society in a process of negotiation. Achieving autonomy in a given society is hence an act of participation.

The Basic Law hence also lays out the democratic rights of citizens to participation.

The rights afforded under the Basic Law are also available to children and adolescents, although some are limited by parental rights or other restrictions (Federal Constitutional Court decision dated 29 July 1968, 1 BvL 20/63, 31/66 and 5/67, BVerfGE 24, 119 et seq.).

The fundamental principle underlying child and youth services is hence to respect the rights of children and adolescents to autonomy and democratic participation and to enable them to exercise these rights.

The services to be offered by child and youth services - promoting optimal health, social security, development, education and recreation (which the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child refers to as “provision“) - and its responsibility to protect against violence, abuse, neglect and generally any threat to children’s welfare (“protection”) - must always be realised while respecting the rights of children and adolescents to autonomy and co-determination (“participation”).

Further reading
  • Pluto, Liane (2018): Partizipation und Beteiligungsrechte. In: Böllert, Karin (ed.): Kompendium Kinder- und Jugendhilfe. Wiesbaden, p. 945−966.
  • Wapler, Friederike (2015): Kinderrechte und Kindeswohl. Tübingen.
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