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In the UK, there are strict safeguarding rules for children. If a child is not picked up after school or an activity by their parents or caregivers, the teachers need to wait until they are picked up and their responsibilities are clear to ensure the child's safety.

I haven't found any similar advice for Germany. There is plenty of advice for parents and leaving children alone (usually at home), but I have not found anything concrete on the responsibilities of others who might be looking after the children and where that responsibility ends.

Are there particular laws that apply to children in this context in Germany, particularly in what context they can be unaccompanied and who is responsible for them? Do the laws change at particular ages?

Let's say I run a swimming course, for instance, and the class finishes at 5 pm. Who is responsible for the child now that the class has ended? If a 10-year-old child says that their parents "said they could go home alone", can I reasonably stop them? If their parents then instruct me verbally (e.g. over the phone) to send them home, am I free to send them walking off into the sunset with no more responsibility? Is this different if they were 6 years old? Or a 6 year old accompanied by a 10 year old?

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    Note that in the UK, common practice at primary schools is to have a signed (by a parent) list of approved adults who can collect a child. Phone calls can make exceptions. From (typically) year 5 - approximately age 9 - the parents can give permission for the child to travel home alone on foot, by bike or whatever. But this is with advance parental permission.
    – Chris H
    Commented Apr 21, 2023 at 9:48
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    I would dispute that the UK has a specific (or even vague) general rule about what age children may walk home alone. Certainly schools etc. have safeguarding obligations, and they may have individual policies, but these will be based on an understanding of the situation (how capable the child is, how far/simple the journey is, what the area is like) rather than purely an age limit. From the NSPCC: "This is up to you and your best judgement, or your school’s rules and policies".
    – dbmag9
    Commented Apr 21, 2023 at 11:49
  • @dbmag9 Yeah. An answer for the United Kingdom would also be very welcome - from a perspective of the law.
    – Druckles
    Commented Apr 21, 2023 at 15:56
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    Germans are much more relaxed on this issue compared to US and UK parents in my experience. Having kids younger than 10 travel alone is very common here in Germany.
    – Gellweiler
    Commented Apr 21, 2023 at 22:09
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    I'm from the uk and I made my own way home from the age of 5 so I think this question is nonsense.
    – sno
    Commented Apr 22, 2023 at 22:17

4 Answers 4

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Ah, okay, there isn't any easy answer/number/table for this.

In general, the "Aufsichtspflicht" results from Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch (BGB) § 1631 Inhalt und Grenzen der Personensorge.

There are not clear cut lines or given ages. This is mainly because it does not make a lot of sense. A very independent and mature 6 year old can do things a less developed or even disabled person might not be able to do, even at the age of 18+.

Generally speaking, the parents have the duty to care for the child, anything else can be handled by contracts. For example a contract with a kindergarten. Or School. Or private/public pool.

From personal experience I can say this: Germany is very safe. Kids go to school on foot, on bike or longer distances by normal public transport among all the other adults. We do not have "school busses". Between 07:00 and 08:00 public transport is packed with kids of all ages going to school. Schools do not normally have their own stops. Kids get off at the nearest stop and walk the rest of the way. Around the school you will see streams of children coming from all directions on bike or foot. It is rare to see adults accompanying them, unless it's the first weeks of elementary school or the last day before school holidays where parents pick up their kids to do something fun after school.

When I was a kid, I walked to school every day, almost from day one of elementary school. The first few weeks an adult would accompany us (one of the parents, they had a rotation going), then we walked on our own, as a group of 3-4 kids in the same class from the same neighborhood block. Google maps says it's a 10 minute walk of 800 meters. If any teacher had stopped me from leaving the school building on my own when school was finished, I am sure people would have wondered why. That only happened for mentally handicapped kids. Even kids who needed transport for one reason or another would just know to wait in front of the school. No teacher or other adult would be there.

At 5th grade, I know half my class came by bike and in the winter or on rainy days by public transport, because they did not live in walking distance to the school. Neither did I, but I lived close enough to not get the public transport ticket subsidized, so the kids from our street got there by bike, or on foot when the parents deemed riding a bike to unsafe in snow and ice in winter.

Who is responsible for the child now that the class has ended?

The parents. Unless the contract says otherwise, or circumstances are exceptionally dangerous. There is no exact written guideline for this, because it would not make sense. The adult has to know what is exceptionally dangerous and what is not. It can be perfectly safe for a 10 year old to walk home through the woods. If that is what the parents deem okay, then it is okay. Yet as the adult in charge, you have the duty to keep them back, if you know the woods are on fire today, or a criminal escaped into the woods or something similar that would make it significantly more dangerous then the parents had in mind when they made their general decision.

If a 10-year-old child says that their parents "said they could go home alone", can I reasonably stop them?

If you have a contract that says they cannot go home alone, sure. If there is a special situation that implies the conditions have changed from what your contract said (lets say the radio broadcasts a storm warning and you see that the weather is horrible and branches flying around could injure a smaller kid) you can (maybe even have to), even if you do not have a contract.

Otherwise... why would you? It’s their parents decision. If they had wanted you to keep an eye on their kids when the time is up, they would have made a contract that says so.

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    There are some school buses in Germany, e.g. in rural areas where there are no regular buses serving that route.
    – user24582
    Commented Apr 21, 2023 at 13:38
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    For the record: There are school buses in Germany, buses that run to/from school and addressing specific requirements (i. e. connecting villages [including any hamlet] only stopping in residential areas, etc.). There are no school buses in so far as there are no distinctive yellow painted buses. Regular buses are used instead. These buses are nevertheless marked as school buses according to § 33 Ⅳ BOKraft. As @user24582 noted this service is usually withheld if regular public transit already adequately addresses these needs. Commented Apr 21, 2023 at 13:47
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    It was similar when I was growing up in the 60's and 70's in the US. We had school busses because I lived in the suburbs, which had no public transportation. I never saw the caravans of parents walking or driving kids to school like I see in my neighborhoods now. While we taught children "don't talk to or take candy from strangers", there wasn't the level of paranoia of today.
    – Barmar
    Commented Apr 21, 2023 at 14:37
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    Realistically, the UK is also very safe. This was how the UK was in the 1980s, and I'm not aware of evidence that unattended kids ever became less safe. (The main risk to kids is other kids, and anecdotally I'd say kid-on-kid violence is way lower than it ever was when I was at school.) The difference is the perception of risk from UK parents.
    – Graham
    Commented Apr 21, 2023 at 17:21
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    i wonder if there is a German word for "helicopter parent". I wasn't allowed to plant a fruit bush with small thorns in the garden because "the grand children could get hurt". My argument was "if they hurt themselves then they learn", but that's not acceptable in the UK.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Apr 22, 2023 at 13:36
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This is a matter of state law:

  • A person who, having the lawful care or charge of a child under 12 years, leaves the child for an unreasonable time without making reasonable provision for the supervision and care of the child during that time commits a misdemeanour. Maximum penalty — 3 years imprisonment. However, this is not a blanket prohibition - it may be reasonable for an 11-year-old to walk 5 minutes home alone.

  • No specific law, according to Family and Community Services NSW, at the judgement of the parents based on the family circumstances and the age and maturity of the child.

  • A person who has the control or charge of a child must not leave the child without making reasonable provision for the child's supervision and care for a time which is unreasonable having regard to all the circumstances of the case.

  • , , , & No specific laws and no government guidance.

Even though Queensland is the only state with a specific legislated age, the laws are basically not that different: parents (and in loco paretis) have a duty to protect children in their care, including providing reasonable supervision. However, reasonable supervision may be no supervision if appropriate to the circumstances.

If you are their swimming instructor, you can and should be guided by the parents, but it is ultimately your decision. If harm were to come to the children, you might be called upon to justify your decision.

Of course, you are a mandatory reporter, so if you believe that what the parents allow amounts to neglect, you must tell the government of your concerns.

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    The question is explicitly about Germany. How is the legal situation in Australia relevant here?
    – Philipp
    Commented Apr 21, 2023 at 14:01
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    @Philipp It's common to add answers about different jurisdictions on law stackexchange, first in order to be able to compare them, and second to not have to repeat the same question 5 times for 5 different jurisdictions. Commented Apr 21, 2023 at 14:33
  • So in NSW for example you could say that it's like Germany: If at the first day of your swimming class the parents tell you that their 10 years old can take the bus home because they deem it (= none for the 10 minute ride) appropriate enough supervision. Is this understanding on point?
    – Hobbamok
    Commented Apr 24, 2023 at 7:37
  • "It's common to add answers about different jurisdictions" - In principle, yes, but OP is clearly asking because he has a concrete interest in the situation in Germany. They even make it clear that they are asking from the perspective of someone (not) handing off a child to the parents (i.e., possibly a swimming coach).
    – AnoE
    Commented Apr 24, 2023 at 7:42
  • @AnoE if they are asking because of something specific to them, they shouldn’t be asking here. We don’t do legal advice; we only satisfy idle curiosity
    – Dale M
    Commented Apr 24, 2023 at 9:02
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This is a question of Aufsichtspflicht (duty to supervise). Minors have to be supervised, as appropriate for the individual circumstances and the child's maturity. There is an expectation that children incrementally get more freedom as they grow, especially once they reach school age. Thus, it can be entirely appropriate to let six- or seven year olds play unattended for multiple hours, or to let them go home alone. There is no explicit age limit, just the full legal age at 18 years.

A swimming course is dangerous, and will require intense supervision.

After such an activity, it would generally be expected that young children are picked up by their parents. In order to minimize liability, the supervisors should make explicit arrangements with the parents. Who is authorized to pick up the kid? Or shall the child be sent home by itself? If the parents/guardians want the child to go home alone, that's an issue for the parent's duty of care. For swimming lessons and youth groups this will probably be discussed informally, but more institutional supervisors might keep written notes about this to avoid misunderstandings.

If a child should be picked up, supervisors/instructors would have to wait with the child, or have to make alternative arrangements. If a child claims that it can go alone, but this contradicts other arrangements or doesn't seem appropriate for this child, then supervisors should clarify, for example by calling the parents.

Further reading:

  • Aufsichtsperson on the German Wikipedia
  • § 832 BGB which establishes liability when the duty of care is violated
  • Infoblatt Aufsicht in Kitas der Unfallkasse RLP which summarizes liability concerns for day care providers. See in particular the Q&A on page 6: Dürfen Kinder den Nachhauseweg alleine antreten? and Was passiert, wenn das Kind nicht abgeholt wird?
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    Why does the danger / intense supervision requirement of a swimming class affect the pickup arrangements? Once they're out of the water and changed, there's no additional risk compared to school. Is this a gap in reasoning or just wording? BTW at my daughter's swimming lessons, the kids disappeared into the changing rooms and that was the last the instructor saw of them, being busy with the next class. So no one was there to check how they left the building
    – Chris H
    Commented Apr 21, 2023 at 9:52
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    "After such an activity, it would generally be expected that young children are picked up by their parents.". Is it really in Germany these days? Definitely not the case when I was a kid and here in Austria for the courses I hold, if a normal ten year old kid can walk home by foot (or public transport) nobody would think about stopping them. Note that the infoblatt is about "Kitas" which in that case seems to be more about Kindergarten age (2-6) and not 10 year olds.
    – Voo
    Commented Apr 21, 2023 at 10:24
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    I would say the practice in Germany depends both on the age (10 years is much more mature than 6 years) and the city/town/village.
    – o.m.
    Commented Apr 21, 2023 at 14:55
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    At least my nephews walked home from school age 6 about 4 years ago in not-so-rural Germany. Commented Apr 21, 2023 at 15:38
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    I live next to a primary school in the center of Berlin. Every day at closing time, there is a gathering of up to 100 parents at the gates (distributed over 1-2 hours) to pick up their children. My impression is they are mainly the parents of first and second graders.
    – ccprog
    Commented Apr 21, 2023 at 17:25
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For your question:

If a 10-year-old child says that their parents "said they could go home alone", can I reasonably stop them?

I would consider two scenarios. First, assume you are the supervisor of a sports course or similar activity with a bunch of kids. That means you have an agreement with the parents that you are responsible for their supervision during the course. You also need some kind of agreement what happens at the end of the course. Either the parents tell you they will pick up the kids or they tell you the kid can leave on their own. There are no formal age limits, you do what the parents tell you.

Second, you are 'a random stranger' and just observe the kids walking off on their own. You have no basis to intervene just because the kids are on their own, even if they are much younger. You can offer help but please don't call the police just because you saw a 5-year old walking around on their own with no sign of any problems.

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