Argentines Say a Sex Cult Enslaved 268 Children
A raid by police officers in Buenos Aires was reported to have found 268 children living in cramped quarters, many underfed and poorly clothed, and literature promoting sex between adults and children. Children slept during the raid early Wednesday before being awakened by officers.
The New York Times/1993-09-03
By NATHANIEL C. NASH
Special to The New York Times
BUENOS AIRES, Sept. 2 — An Argentine judge said today that a police raid had found 268 children living in cramped quarters, many of them underfed and poorly clothed, and literature promoting sex between adults and children. The raid was carried out early Wednesday on a group known as the Family.
As many as 60 United States citizen were among the children and adult taken into custody, the judge said.
The judge, Roberto Marquevich, said the police had also found a videotape showing a father having sex with his daughter.
"Virtual State Of Servitude"
The raid, which involved about 180 policeman, was the culmination of an investigation that began early this year. The United States Embassy had also provided documents about three American children reportedly held by the Family against the desires of their parents. James R. Cheek, the Ambassador, refused to comment today, citing the right to privacy of the Americans involved.
For several years, the Argentine police have watched the mysterious activities of the Family as its members bought homes in the suburbs of Buenos Aires, sold posters and videotapes in the streets and touched off rumors about prostitution, sex involving children and drugs.
"We found these children in the virtual state of servitude, " said Mr. Marquevich, a federal judge who began the investigation and ordered the raids. "The evidence of abuse of children is very strong."
Reuters reported that a prosecutor, Carlos Villafuerte, had revised the number of children in court custody downward, to 160, but Judge Marquevich said the number was 268.
In London, the British branch of the Family said the raid was part of a pattern of religious persecution by disaffected ex-members.
An Absolute Denial
"The suggestions that we are involved in satanic rituals, child abuse, prostitution, begging and kidnapping are deplorable," the Family said in a statement quoted by Reuters. "This attack in Argentina appears to be part of a pattern of religious persection that has been going on around the world."
On Wednesday Judge Marquevich also jailed 30 leaders and members of the Family, charging them with racketeering, depriving minors of their rights and kidnapping.
Court officials said ex-members of the Family had given sworn testimony that children were often separated from their parents and encouraged to engage in sex with adults.
Judge Marquevich said that he had evidence that the group used prostitution by its members and children to win converts, but that no indication so far has been found of drug use. He also said that no inordinate number of weapons had been found and that members of the Family had not resisted arrest.
Roots in California
Known in Argentina as the Family or the Family of Love, the group originated with the Children of God, which emerged from the 1960's hippie movement in Huntington Beach, Calif.
Under its fiery leader, David Berg, the Children of God preached Biblical fundamentalism with a strong appeal to repent before doomsday. But it also preached free sex among its members, even advocating the use of sex as a way to win converts.
In the early 1970's, at the instructions of Mr. Berg, who was also known as Moses David and Father David, members left the United States after being accused by the New York State Attorney General of tax evasion, rape, polygamy, draft dodging, incest and kidnapping. Some members migrated to Europe, Southeast Asia and Argentina.
Judge Marquevich said the impetus for the investigation came from pleas by two American families who had failed to get the group to give back their children. Argentine court authorities said the United States Embassy had shown great interest in the cases, especially after the death of David Koresh and his Branch Davidian followers in Waco, Tex., in April.
Raids In Other Nations
The raid here followed similar raids against the Children of God in other countries, though there was no indication the raids had been coordinated.
In May 1992 the police in Sydney and Melbourne, Australia, took 140 children between the ages of 2 and 16 into protective custody. The children had been living at seven Children of God houses. Members of the group were charged with abuse of minors, but one case has been thrown out for lack of evidence; another is pending.
In June the French police raided 12 group houses in Condrieu, near Lyons, and Eiguille, near Aix-en-Provence, taking 40 children into custody. The sect had been banned by the French Government in 1979, but a French court has temporarily returned the children to the parents.
And last month a similar raid was staged by police in Barcelona, Spain, who placed 22 children in protective custody. But again a court threw out the case and returned the children to the parents.
The group has also been expelled from China and Egypt.
Court officials in Argentina said there was no connection between their investigation and those in Spain, France and Australia. But they said that as the cases proceeded, there was the possibility of sharing information.
The whereabouts of Mr. Berg, 74, is not known. But the Children of God reportedly have returned recently to California, near Huntington Beach.