German parents whose four children were taken into care because they refused to send them to school did not have their human rights breached, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled.
Home education is banned in Germany but the Wunderlich family, from Darmstadt, who are Christian, wished to educate their children in this way.
Their four children were taken into care for three weeks in 2013.
Afterwards the parents took their case to the ECHR in Strasbourg,
They claimed their right to respect for private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights had been breached.
But the court has now ruled that taking the children into care was justified.
The ECHR said officials in Darmstadt, near Frankfurt, were reasonable in assuming the parents had “endangered their children by not sending them to school”.
“Based on the information available at the time, the domestic authorities had reasonably assumed that the children were isolated, had had no contact with anyone outside of the family, and that a risk to their physical integrity had existed,” the court added.
In a statement released through the religious advocacy group ADF International, the father, Dirk Wunderlich, described the court’s ruling as “disheartening”.
“After years of legal struggles, this is extremely frustrating for us and our children,” he said. “It is upsetting that the European Court of Human Rights has not recognised the injustices we have suffered at the hands of the German authorities.”
The family are now considering appealing the decision, by taking their case to the Grand Chamber of the ECHR.
The lengthy dispute began in 2005, when the parents – who are deeply religious – refused to enrol their eldest daughter at school.
Home-schooling is essentially banned in Germany, except for in very rare circumstances – such as severe illness, or if the child’s parents are diplomats.
But the parents argued that even Christian private schools could leave their children exposed to “unwanted influences”.
The couple were repeatedly issued with fines, and even had criminal proceedings brought against them. However, they simply paid off the fines and continued educating their children at home.
Police eventually seized the children from their parents’ home in Darmstadt on 29 August 2013.
Authorities claimed the children were growing up in a “parallel world”, and that they would struggle to become part of the community and learn crucial social skills, such as tolerance.
The children were temporarily moved into care for three weeks between August and September 2013, and were enrolled in school for a year until 2014.
After that year was up, the parents took their children out of school again.