140 Aussie kids saved after raids on religious cult
SYDNEY - About 140 children have been taken into protective custody in two Australian states following raids on six houses connected to the worldwide religious cult, the Children of God.
The raids by police and community services offices in Victoria and New South Wales were launched on Friday after investigations into the cult raised concerns about the "children's lifestyle and emotional condition", the court orders said.
The Children of God - renamed in recent years the Family of Love - was founded in California in 1968 by David Berg.
Berg, who is also known as Moses David and Chairman Mo, is reportedly sought by US police on kidnapping, rape and extortion charges.
The sect has established itself in 70 countries, with 12,000 members worldwide, including an estimated 1,000 in Australia. The sect has recently been associated with allegations of sexual abuse and several state authorities in Australia are investigating the claims.
The whereabouts of Berg are not known, although the Saturday edition of The Australian newspaper said it is believed he may be in Japan.
A lawyer representing the community services department in Victoria said the children had been denied access to the outside community, had been transferred across the country and had not been given access to their parents.
A court official said the children ranged in age from two to 14. One male sect member in Melbourne was arrested for hindering police.
Late on Friday, 68 children taken in the Victorian raid appeared in a Children's Court in Melbourne, where a judge ordered them to remain in the care of the community services department. They were taken to an unknown location.
Mr Chris Murphy, a Sydney lawyer who said he would be representing the parents of 70 of the children in court, said the raid was "fascist lunacy" and said the children had been "kidnapped by the law".
"They were carried sleeping from their beds and their parents were corraled into another room," he said. He said police would not tell him where the children were being kept.
Mr David Marchant, deputy director-general of the NSW Department of Communit y Services, defended the raids, citing concerns for the emotional and physical well-being of the children.
He said the children were well and would remain in the care of welfare workers.
Children's courts in both states will begin hearing the cases tomorrow.