Young people want their voices to be heard more

German Child and Youth Welfare Congress Young people want their voices to be heard more

What do young people expect of the political level? What sort of policy would respond to the needs of young people? And how can we ensure that young people’s voices are heard more, during crises and in normal times? These were some of the questions addressed by Chancellor Angela Merkel in a discussion with young people that rounded off the German Child and Youth Welfare Congress.

Chancellor Angela Merkel in discussion during the 17th German Child and Youth Welfare Congress

Chancellor Angela Merkel during the online discussion that rounded off the German Child and Youth Welfare Congress. The discussion revolved around what we can do together to ensure that young people grow up well.

Photo: Bundesregierung/Steins

For three days, the 17th German Child and Youth Welfare Congress explored the views of the young generation and their families – today and looking ahead, for instance, to the consequences of COVID-19. How can politicians and civil society act now in the interests of today’s young generation and the generations to come? This was the crux of the issue discussed by experts in the field of child and youth welfare.

To round off the congress, Chancellor Angela Merkel engaged in an online discussion of this question with four young people. Angela Merkel reported that the Federal Government has developed a Youth Strategy for precisely this reason. All ministries must now consider how they can better respond to the ideas and needs of young people. It is no longer just the job of the Federal Ministry for Youth. Youth participation is an important project. “We are endeavouring to get as many young people as possible involved in our government work,” said Angela Merkel.

The government is, for instance, working towards ensuring that youth voluntary services have the funding to ensure that every young person who wants to undertake voluntary service is able to do so.

Since 1964, the Child and Youth Welfare Association has held the German Child and Youth Welfare Congress every three to four years. It addresses experts in the field of child and youth welfare, service providers, politicians and public authorities. This year, the first online congress was held from 18 to 20 May. Its motto was “We create future – now!” With over 270 online events and a digital exposition with about 260 exhibitors, it is the largest congress of its sort in Europe.

Young people want to be heard more clearly

The young participants in the discussion were quick to agree that they all want to see more participation. The 15-year-old Levi from Essen stressed that young people want to have a say in their own future. He proposed lowering the voting age to 16. 

The Chancellor was “not so open” to this suggestion. She believes that voting rights should come with the age of majority, she explained. One factor that would support calls to lower the voting age is the demographic structure of German society, she admitted. “The preponderance of older people in society means that the voices of young people are simply not heard enough.”

By contrast, the Chancellor felt that the suggestion that young people should be represented, at least from time to time, in the “Corona Cabinet” was “a very interesting idea”, which she promised to discuss with her Cabinet colleagues.

More political education please

Another matter that was repeatedly raised by the young people was political education. Ana (aged 18) from Bavaria, complained that political education is not properly mainstreamed in the German school system. Young people need more information if they are to get involved, she said. Karolina (aged 16) from Deggendorf stressed that the information must be comprehensible and accessible. “If people do not know where to obtain information and how to get involved, participation will be difficult.“

Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed that she, like many other members of the German Bundestag, visits school classes to report on her work and answer questions. The Federal Agency for Civic Education also offers a wide range of services, but perhaps these are not reaching schools as they should.

The Chancellor saw divergences in communication channels as a reason for this. “The information channels that young people use and the channels we use at political level have diverged even more in recent years,” she said. Apparently the political level is not managing to reach young people as they had hoped in spite of embracing Facebook, Instagram, etc. For this reason, an in-depth discussion is needed to pinpoint ways of coming together.

Falling behind in the crisis

Levi also spoke about the situation over the last few months. He said young people must never again be allowed to slip into a position of secondary importance. So many things that are important to young people were scaled back. That must not happen again. If politicians stress that young people are important, then actions must follow.

The Chancellor pointed out that there have been a great many restrictions over the last few months, not only for young people. But she did stress that young people now deserve attention. The political level must ensure that they can take their school leaving certificates, that traineeships are offered, and that leisure activities are once again possible.

Chancellor Angela Merkel singled out two points in particular from the discussion that she would be working on – how to ensure better contact between the political level and young people, and the warning not to lose sight of the views of young people.

Launch event with Federal Minister for Youth Franziska Giffey

On Tuesday, the (then) Federal Minister for Youth Franziska Giffey helped open the German Child and Youth Welfare Congress. She stressed how important it is “to take children and young people seriously and to get them involved”.

Even during the pandemic they must be enabled to grow up in a safe and healthy environment. That is why the Federal Government has just adopted an action programme that aims to make good lost learning, strengthen early childhood education, and foster holiday activity programmes and extracurricular activities. It is the responsibility of adults “to give the young generation the self-confidence they need to be a strong generation,” declared Franziska Giffey. 

Child and youth welfare services foster the development of children and young people and help young adults in particularly difficult situations, as well as advising and supporting parents and guardians in bringing up their children.