Human rights…the central standard for youth participation

The foundation for youth participation is human rights. Human rights are the basic rights and freedoms that belong to every human being in the world, from birth. They include a several rights which protect and support youth participation in democratic life


Human rights are guaranteed by a variety of international legislation including:


The human rights most closely associated with youth participation are:

  • Freedom of thought, conscience, and religion – this protects people’s right to form their own political beliefs, opinions, and values.
  • Freedom of expression and information – this protects people’s right to express their views in public and ensures that people can publish, share, and access information.
  • The right to freedom of assembly and association – this includes the right to public protest and to form organisations such as youth associations.
  • The right to free elections – this enables people to vote and stand for election.

The rights of children and young people under 18 are defined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. They are slightly different to the rights of people over 18. Although young people under 18have similar rights to freedom of thought, expression, assembly, and association, they do not have the explicit right to participate in elections. Instead, Article 12 of the UNCRC guarantees the right of children and young people under 18 to have their opinions taken into account when decisions are made that affect their lives. Despite this, an increasing number of European countries are granting the right to vote at the age of 16. It is one of the key debates in youth participation currently.

To strengthen international human rights legislation many States also have national legislation on human rights.


European Union policies on youth participation

Participation for all citizens is enshrined as a fundamental right in the Treaty of the European

Union: ‘Every citizen shall have the right to participate in the democratic life of the Union. Decisions shall be taken as openly and as closely as possible to the citizen.’ Regarding young people in particular, Article 165.2 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union stipulates that ‘Union action shall be aimed at encouraging the development of youth exchanges and of exchanges of socio-educational instructors, and encouraging the participation of young people in democratic life in Europe.’

The European Union Youth Strategy supports these treaties. It defines the European Union’s current policy on young people. It encourages EU member states to ‘promote inclusive democratic participation of all young people in society and democratic processes’. The European Youth Strategy annex also includes the European Youth Goals. These were created by 50,000 young people through the EU Youth Dialogue. Youth Goal#9: focuses on Space and Participation for All.

Finally, The Youth Participation Strategy aims at enhancing youth participation in democratic life through the Erasmus+ and European Solidarity Corps programmes.


Other policies and standards

Many European countries have national youth policies which support youth participation. As well as this there are a variety of standards, guidelines and tools for youth participation that have been created by international bodies and NGOs. These include things such as:

Salto Participation and Information’s Quality Youth Participation Assessment Checklist


Photo of Dr. Dan Moxon
Dr. Dan Moxon

​Dan is researcher and practitioner specialising in inclusive youth participation with over 20 years experience working with children and young people in the voluntary, public, for-profit and academic sectors. His research focuses on how children and young people's participation can influence policy, as well and the development of participatory structures and processes. Originally a youth worker at local and regional level in the North West of England, he now works throughout Europe and beyond supporting a variety of organisations, to develop their approach to youth participation. In 2017 he was invited to re-develop the consultation process behind the EU’s Youth Dialogue. This engages nearly 50,000 young people from across the EU, and was instrumental in developing the new European Youth Goals. In 2020, his advice paper to the Ukrainian Government led to a revision of a draft law which enabled under 18s to participate in local civic processes.