Laudator: Alvar C. Freude
The BigBrotherAward in the “Regional” category goes to the
Municipal Authority for Education and Sports of the City of Hamburg
represented by Ms Alexandra Dinges-Dierig, Senator for Education and Sports
for introducing a central register for all pupils and students with the (further) purpose of finding foreign families without a residence permit.
Hamburg is known nationally for its harsh and rigid approach towards deportations. At one time, a Palestinian from Nablus in the West Bank who has been living in Germany for 21 years is being deported, at another, underage students are about to be deported – without their parents, who have a residence permit.
Considering this, it is hardly surprising that all possible means are being used to snoop out families for the next deportation. Therefore, the Aliens Registration Office makes use of the Central Register of Pupils (Schülerzentralregister) to find children and their parents without a current residence permit. In Germany, attending school is compulsory. Not only that: Access to education is a civil right1 and “no person shall be denied” this right2, as has been stated by the European Convention for Human Rights, the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights3 and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child4 .
Access to education is a right of every single child, no matter what their nationality. And regardless of whether their residence in the country in question is legal or not.
In 2006, the amendment of the Law on Schools in Hamburg (Hamburgisches Schulgesetz) and the by-law on Data Protection in Schools (Schul-Datenschutzverordnung)5 also introduced the Central Register of Pupils. All schools of the city state are obliged to hand over the details of all their pupils, which are then automatically compared with the Register of Residents. This system was introduced to find children who are not attending school, which might point to a case of neglect. It is the declared aim of this data collection to prevent tragic cases like that of Jessica, the seven-year-old girl that died of hunger in her parents’ flat in 2005 after years of neglect.
However, the Register of Pupils would hardly have helped Jessica: The Education Authority knew about her and had even instituted proceedings for a civil penalty against the parents because their daughter remained absent from school. However, nobody asked why the girl failed to attend. The Education Authority then obviously considered their job done – neither the welfare authorities nor the police were approached. If the authorities do not follow up on such a case, even the largest collection of data will be of little use.
For what, then, is the Central Register of Pupils actually of use? Except to perhaps secure some software developers’ jobs?
Another girl also had problems with the authorities in Hamburg, but not because they would not take an interest in her: An anonymous informer had alerted the authorities that thirteen-year-old Yesim and her mother lived in Hamburg without permits, in the flat of the grandmother. For the authorities, this was a typical case of “joining family illegally”, and the girl and her mother, who had both lived in Hamburg for thirteen years, were threatened with deportation. If Yesim had not been the model of a integrated, popular and successful pupil that she is, she and her mother would certainly have been deported long ago.
But now, the authorities no longer have to depend on grassing neighbours: The Register enables them not only to find registered pupils who do not go to school. No, quite the contrary: It is also possible to find pupils who do go to school but are not registered (that is, pupils and students who live in Hamburg without a residence permit), as the data of the Register of Pupils and the Register of Residents are continuously and automatically compared.
Now, is the Central Register of Pupils more of a Yesim file than a Jessica file, as some refugee organisations suspect? Indeed, finding children without a residence permit is one of the aims of the Register of Pupils, as particularly the conservative party CDU in Hamburg has demanded. It only makes sense, then, that the Aliens Registration Office has access to the information.
Article 9 of Hamburg’s Ordinance on Data Protection in Schools states:
§ 9 Transfer of information to other public authorities
“The responsible authority may pass on personal details from the Central Register of Pupils (as listed in §7) to other public authorities, if this is necessary for the duties of either the granting or the receiving authorities. The receiving authorities may use the information only for the purpose for which they were passed on. [...]”
Note this: “The receiving authorities may use the information only for the purpose for which they were passed on.”
Ms Dinges-Dierig, can we take that to mean that if the details were passed on for deporting of families without residence permit, then they may indeed only be used for deportations?
The authorities claim that so far, information from the Register has not played a part in any deportations. No children without current residence permit have been found. This is hardly surprising: Their parents are afraid that sending their kids to school would almost automatically lead to deportation of the whole family – and that fear is well-founded. It is quite understandable that under such circumstances, families decide against letting their children attend school. It is a fear that families have had in the past as well, but in most cases, NGOs like “Fluchtpunkt” [“Point of Rescue”]6 succeeded in convincing parents that they were safe in sending their children to school. With the Register, that is no longer possible – the families in question have taken their children out of school. It is hardly surprising, then, that no “illegals” could be found. A law that was supposed to serve the welfare of children has had the opposite effect.
Yes, the Central Register of Pupils is meant to benefit children, though it is not at all able to do so. It would not have protected Jessica against her abusive parents and neglectful authorities. The “welfare of children” appears to have quite a range of definitions – if we follow the CDU party and School Senator Dinges-Dierig in the Senate of Hamburg, we arrive at the following position: As living without a residence permit is per se detrimental to the welfare of children, they could only benefit from ending that illegality7. Whether the kids will be living a better life in Afghanistan, the Gaza Strip or Iraq is more than questionable. Still: Looking at the work of the Aliens Registration Office in Hamburg, removing unwanted persons into unstable regions is not an unlikely option, as quite a number of cases have shown.
This rather strange understanding of child welfare does not work in real life, anyway: Parents are taking their kids out of school rather than risking detection and deportation. Thus, Hamburg actively counteracts the right of access to education – a right that also includes, let us not forget, children without a residence permit.
It is true, schools have been under an obligation to alert the authorities to children without the proper documents even before this. But whoever is signed in for school now gets registered centrally, and the details are automatically being compared with the Register of Residence. The schools are under considerable pressure to register the children. They might, of course, remain silent about those without papers, but those pupils would then just not exist for receiving certificates and final exams and would not be insured against accidents at school.
So, what have we learned, Ms. Dinges-Dierig?
- Your penchant for collecting personal data aggravates the humanitarian problem of refugees and families without valid residence permit rather than reducing it. The children in question are in fact being denied their right to access education.
- The professed aim, putting compulsory attendance into effect, could be achieved much more cheaply by other methods – for example, if your department actually tried to find why children fail to attend school.
- If data are collected and centrally stored, they can be misused for a wide range of purposes.
Congratulations for the BigBrotherAward, Ms Dinges-Dierig.
1 Artikel 26 der allgemeinen Erklärung der Menschenrechte
2 Artikel 2 im 1. Zusatzprotokoll zur Konvention zum Schutz der Menschenrechte und Grundfreiheiten zur Europäischen Menschenrechtskonvention von 1950, von Deutschland 1952 ratifiziert
3 Pakt über wirtschaftliche, soziale und kulturelle Rechte, kurz: Sozialrechtspakt, 1966 von der UN-Generalversammlung einstimmig verabschiedet, von Deutschland 1968 unterzeichnet und 1973 vorbehaltlos ratifiziert
4 Übereinkommen über die Rechte des Kindes, 1989 von der UN-Generalversammlung angenommen; Deutschland hat neben Österreich als einziges europäisches Land die Kinderrechtskonvention nur unter dem Vorbehalt unterschrieben, dass das deutsche Ausländerrecht Vorrang habe.
5 Verordnung über die Verarbeitung personenbezogener Daten im Schulwesen (Schul-Datenschutzverordnung) vom 20. Juni 2006,
7 siehe beispielsweise http://www.taz.de/index.php?id=archivseite&dig=2006/10/12/a0285