Participation in the political sphere is not limited to the issue of age and accessing electoral rights, but is also related to children’s right to express their views freely and the right to have their views taken into consideration. These rights are guaranteed in both the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (Article 24) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Article 12).
Youth and children’s councils constitute useful institutional tools in view of implementing the right of young people and children to be heard in the public sphere. At the same time, they introduce young people and children to the importance of democratic political participation and its rules, thus promoting the values of democracy.
- All Member States provide for the participation of children and young people in the public sphere through different types of youth or children’s councils.
- As a general trend, youth or children’s councils are set at the local level on the initiative of municipal or other local authorities, which define – with rather great discretion – the rules and requirements of engagement of children and young people in their activities. Therefore, structures, operational rules, as well as minimum age requirements vary significantly – not only between Member States but also among different local authorities within the same Member States.
- Youth or children’s councils function at the local level in almost all Member States. As regards age requirements at the local level, in 12 Member States (Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain and Sweden), no minimum age requirements are set. In other Member States, these can range from the age of seven years in Estonia to the age of 15 in Croatia, Greece or Slovenia.
- Youth or children’s councils operate at the national level in 20 Member States: Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
- Institutional structures and operational statutes and rules for national-level councils vary significantly. In certain Member States, councils at the national level may have the status of an official consultative role regulated by legislation (Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania and Portugal). In other Member States, councils take the form of an umbrella association or a network of local councils and other youth organisations (Denmark, Germany, Malta, the Netherlands, Romania, Slovakia, Spain and Sweden). In some Member States, there is also a practice of convening youth or children’s parliaments (Austria, Greece, Hungary, Luxembourg, Slovenia and the United Kingdom). Concerning minimum age requirements at the national level, none are set in Cyprus, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands and Romania. In the remaining Member States, minimum age requirements range from six years in Hungary to 16 years in Greece, Malta and Spain.