Educational institutions

When children infringe the law, placing them in special educational institutions, where restrictions of liberty or movement apply, constitutes an alternative to strict detention.

Some Member States set minimum age requirements for placing children in such institutions.

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Key aspects

  • Children can be placed in educational institutions where restrictions of liberty or movement apply in all EU Member States. In Cyprus, however, such institutions do not restrict liberty or movement.
  • The age thresholds applied in this regard differ among Member States. Age requirements often do not exist or are set at a very low age.
  • No minimum age is laid down in Estonia, Germany, Ireland, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, and Slovakia. In Bulgaria and Greece, the minimum age is set at eight years. In France and the United Kingdom, it is set at 10 – with the exception of Scotland, where it is 12 years. In Latvia, it is set at 11 years. In the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Hungary and the Netherlands, at the age of 12; in Poland, at the age of 13; in Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Italy, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia and Spain, at the age of 14; and in Sweden, at the age of 15.

Legal background

According to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, restrictions to children’s liberty and right of movement, especially detention or imprisonment, should be used only as a measure of last resort (Article 37 (b)). In this context, Article 40 (4) suggests a whole range of alternatives to institutional care “to ensure that children are dealt with in a manner appropriate to their well-being and proportionate both to their circumstances and the offence”. These include guidance and supervision orders, counselling, probation, foster care, as well as education and vocational training programmes.

The rule of deprivation of liberty as last resort for child offenders is also enshrined in the EU legal order under the Directive on special safeguards for children (Article 10 (2)). Article 11 stipulates that “Member States shall ensure that, where possible, the competent authorities have recourse to measures alternative to detention (alternative measures)”. According to Recital 46 of the directive, such alternative measures could include a prohibition on the child being in certain places, an obligation to reside in a specific place, restrictions concerning contact with specific persons, reporting obligations to the competent authorities, participation in educational programmes or, subject to the child's consent, participation in therapeutic or addiction programmes.

The issue of minimum age thresholds for children to be placed in institutions where restrictions of liberty or movement apply, however, is not regulated at EU level, nor by other international rules. It therefore lies within the competences of individual EU Member States.