Human rights judges today endorsed German courts’ decisions to take children belonging to the Twelve Tribes Church into care.
In today’s Chamber judgments in the cases of Tlapak and Others v. Germany (nos. 11308/16 and 11344/16) and Wetjen and Others v. Germany (application nos. 68125/14 and 72204/14) the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been:
no violation of Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The cases concerned the partial withdrawal of parental authority and the taking into care of children belonging to the Twelve Tribes Church (Zwölf Stämme), living in two communities in Bavaria (Germany).
In 2012, the press reported that church members punished their children by caning. The reports were subsequently corroborated by video footage of caning filmed with a hidden camera in one of the communities.
Based on these press reports, as well as statements by former members of the church, the children living in the communities were taken into care in September 2013 by court order.
The proceedings before the European Court have been brought by four families who are members of the Twelve Tribes Church. They complain about the German courts’ partial withdrawal of their parental authority and the splitting up of their families.
The European court agreed with the German courts that the risk of systematic and regular caning of children justified withdrawing parts of the parents’ authority and taking the children into care.
Their decisions had been based on a risk of inhuman or degrading treatment, which is prohibited in absolute terms under the European Convention.
The court pointed out, moreover, that the German courts had given detailed reasons why they had had no other option available to them to protect the children. In particular, the parents had remained convinced during the proceedings that corporal punishment was acceptable and, even if they would have agreed to no caning, there had been no way of ensuring that it would not be carried out by other members of the community.
Therefore, the German courts, in fair and reasonable proceedings in which each child’s case had been looked at individually, had struck a balance between the interests of the parents and the best interests of the children.