On 10 January 2019, the European Court of Human Rights handed down a judgement on the case of Wunderlich v Germany. Its implications represent a disastrous challenge to the integrity and centrality of the nuclear family in Europe.
In 2013, Dirk and Petra Wunderlich awoke to discover that German police and social workers had come to seize custody of their four children. Why? Dirk and Petra chose to home-school their children. Unfortunately in Germany, home-schooling is illegal. Germany is not unique in this regard, but still of a minority of countries in Europe that do not allow parents to assume the traditional role as their children’s educator. The only crime that Dirk and Petra were guilty of, apparently, was taking the educational upbringing of their children into their own hands. Their private lives were interrupted, and their family separated, because they chose to assume a greater level of engagement in their children’s development.
Robert Clarke, Director of European Advocacy for ADF International, and legal counsel for the family has responded that the ruling “…disregards the rights of parents all over Europe to raise their children without disproportionate interference from the state. Petra and Dirk Wunderlich simply wanted to educate their children in line with their convictions and decided their home environment would be the best place for this. Children deserve this loving care from their parents.”
Germany’s ban on home-schooling is provided for by laws from 1919, and represents the vestiges of a nation recoiling from waging a nationalistic war. It has since signed several international human right treaties and allegedly fashioned itself as a bastion of pluralistic tolerance in Europe.
And yet, the fifth section of the European Court of Human Rights today has ruled unanimously that the Wunderlich family’s right to respect for private and family life, pursuant to Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights, had not been violated.
The chamber has affirmed the national courts of Germany’s decision that the ‘partial withdrawal of parental authority’ was justified in that failure to attend state education would deny the children’s accessibility to the learning of social skills ‘…such as tolerance or assertiveness’.
One cannot be certain if the tolerance which state education provides for, includes respect for families who wish to home-school their children.
More worryingly, the court describes the natural state of parents raising their children and personally educating them as a ‘“symbiotic” family system’. Whether children attend a state education system, or are home schooled, they are always dependent on their parents for their upbringing. Parentage is necessary for the imparting of morals, values and all sundries related to preparation for adulthood. The description of this relationship as symbiotic is deeply worrying, especially for the protection of parental rights.
These findings were made despite the fact that the court begrudgingly accepted that the actions of German authorities in taking Dirk and Petra’s children away were retrospectively, ‘misguided’.
The result leads Europe into uncharted waters. Parents in Europe can no longer trust that their wishes in the upbringing of their children will be respected, or that in the eyes of the state, they are privileged as the primary care givers of the children they raise.