(CN) – The removal of four German children from their family home due to their parents’ law-breaking decision to home school them did not violate human rights laws, a European court found Thursday.
In a 16-page order, the European Court of Human Rights unanimously found Germany did not violate the right to respect for private and family life of Dirk and Petra Wunderlich, whose children were removed to a children’s home for three weeks in August 2013 due to their refusal to send their kids to school, in violation of Germany’s laws against home schooling.
Wunderlich family attorney Robert Clarke with Alliance Defending Freedom said in a statement he was advising the family of their options to appeal the decision to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights.
“We are extremely disappointed with this ruling, which disregards the rights of parents all over Europe to raise their children without disproportionate interference from the government,” Clarke said.
“Petra and Dirk Wunderlich simply wanted to educate their children consistent with their convictions and decided their home environment would be the best place for this,” he added.
By refusing to send their children to a state school, the parents risked the children’s best interests and prevented them from being part of the larger community and learning social skills including tolerance, according to the Darmstadt Family Court, which had found the parents could not make decisions over school matters and the children’s residence.
The children’s removal came after the parents refused to enroll their kids in school for years and they faced regulatory fines and criminal proceedings before a family court transferred rights over the children to the youth office.
Because the children would not come out of their parents’ home on Aug. 29, 2013, they “were carried out of the house individually with the help of police officers,” according to a summary of the case by the human rights court.
The children were returned to their parents after the Wunderlichs agreed to send the children to school and after they had received learning assessments the parents had previously blocked multiple times. But the children were removed from school by their parents again in June 2014.
In its order, the European Court of Human Rights found based on the knowledge and information available to the state at the time regarding the children – it did not err in removing the children.
“The court finds that the enforcement of compulsory school attendance, to prevent social isolation of the applicants’ children and ensure their integration into society, was a relevant reason for justifying the partial withdrawal of parental authority. It further finds that the domestic authorities reasonably assumed – based on the information available to them – that children were endangered by the applicants by not sending them to school and keeping them in a ‘symbiotic’ family system,” the order states.
The court also pointed to the parents’ refusal to subject their children to a learning assessment which could have shown state officials and the youth office “that the children had had sufficient knowledge, social skills and a loving relationship with their parents.”
Instead, the only information officials could consider in deciding whether or not to remove the children from the family home was a statement from Dirk Wunderlich where he said he considered children to be the “property” of their parents, a criminal investigation for hitting one of their daughters and authorities’ belief the children were isolated with no contact with anyone outside the family.
Since the children were returned to their family following the learning assessment, the court concluded “the actual removal of the children did not last any longer than necessary in the children’s best interest and was also not implemented in a way which was particularly harsh or exceptional.”