Director Worries For Children
The Sunday Age/1992-05-24
By Jane Phillips
Community Services Victoria has serious concerns about the welfare of 56 children belonging to the Children of God religious sect, who were returned to the group this week. They were removed from their homes by police and welfare workers nine days ago.
An application by CSV to hold the children was adjourned indefinitely in the Children's Court on Friday, although the department claims it wants the case heard as soon as possible.
The CSV director-general, Mr John Paterson, said yesterday he held profound concerns for the children's well-being. Despite cries of religious persecution against the group, Mr Paterson is standing firm in his belief that CSV acted properly in removing the children from the cult.
"I think we did what we had to do and would do the same again if faced with the same situation," he said.
Documents obtained by The Sunday Age illustrate the group's beliefs and practices and show its preparedness to deal with questioning from authorities in times of crisis.
Volumes of literature tell members how to avoid answering questions directly, how to handle hard questions and how to discredit others. Members are advised not to answer questions at all, but to talk about the questions, to ask questions of the interviewer, to continually ask for clarification and to ask to have the question repeated. "You must turn the tide and win public support and sympathy for your side," it reads.
The group has recently come under scrutiny in Britain, Greece, Italy, Venezuela, Switzerland, Peru, Brazil, Argentina and Scandanavia.
The group sees children and teenagers who are not sect members as evil, and its literature warns members to keep their children isolated from the general community. "Nowadays, the system kids are so spoiled and such brats and so unprincipled and immoral with no ideals. They don't have enough brothers and sisters to learn any responsibility in taking care of them. Our children know how to work hard, clean house, cook, take care of babies and ... they're mature enough to get married and have children of their own at an early age, which is the way God intended it to be."
The children removed by authorities in Victoria and NSW were aged between two and 15. Experts on the group believe children within the sect are sent to "teen camps" in Australia and overseas when they reach the age of 15.
The children were returned to five sect homes around Melbourne on several conditions, including that 48 hours notice in writing is given if they move; that passports be surrendered; that access be given to CSV workers and that the children be produced to the Childrens' Court if required.
Some of the main teachings of the group include: That God intended children to have sex from an early age and that he intended them to have children from the age of 12 or 13. ("I think as children, before the girls start menstruating and the boys start seminating, that's their opportunity to have all the sex they want with no problems _ as long as the system doesn't know it _ and to get their experience, and that's the way God intended for it to be! But it must be made very clear to your children that such sexual freedom must never be indulged in or practised openly in the presence of visitors, strangers or uninitiated relatives and friends who have not been properly re-educated," Moses David has written.)
That the best way to spread the word of God is to have sex with non-believers, in practices known as flirty fishing and escort servicing. ("The biggest problem every travelling salesman or travelling businessman has is his sexual needs and his need for companionship, just someone that he knows, a friend, loved ones, somebody! They really need help and we're the perfect answer to their need once they find the Lord and find us.")
That children should be severely physically punished for wrongdoing. ("You've got to have a rod or a wire fly swatter or a little stick or belt. Even a belt doesn't hurt like a fly swatter. When you really swat them with it, it's enough to leave a couple of red lines.")
That those who leave the sect are evil "backsliders" and of the devil, and that everyone outside the group is a corrupting influence.
Although the group has said it no longer practises several of these teachings, those who have studied the cult disagree. They say its literature tells members how to deal with almost any "persecution" and the obvious defence is to deny beliefs which upset outsiders.
A National Party politician, Mr Peter McGauran, who pursued the group around the world for several years to recover a Victorian child held by her father in the sect, said it was easy to be duped by the Children of God.
"It has a chameleon character which flows with the tide according to what the pressures are from the outside," he said. "Its essential practices and beliefs don't change _ only its outward presentation. You cannot be naive about the Children of God. They're very manipulative, very clever."
Police became aware of the group's presence in Melbourne early last year, when called to a domestic problem in an eastern suburbs home. They found a woman living with her nine children, who said she was a missionary recently returned from India and was being harassed by a violent husband.
But when they contacted the father of the children, he told them he was trying to gain access to his children in a bid to rescue them from a religious group known as the Children of God, of which he was an ex-member.
The father said he was concerned for the physical and emotional well-being of his children. He told police they did not attend school and the group was totally controlled by the teachings of a prophet known as Moses David, who encouraged sex for children from the age of 12.
Police checked several other addresses in Malvern, Kew and Caulfield where they believed the sect was living in rented homes, but found members had packed up and left overnight when they heard they were being investigated by authorities.
Police applied for a protection order for the nine children, who had been isolated from the group and were living in a "safe house" when it was found their father was a "backslider" who had returned to the outside world. Former members said the group set up the houses to appear as normal families homes when it was feared the group might be investigated.
The case went to the Childrens' Court late in March, but it was adjourned and the children were returned to their mother, with access rights given to the father and visiting rights to police. Police found the visits to be ineffectual as they were not allowed to talk to the children and were often abused by the mother. At one stage they were asked to telephone before attending, but found the phone would not be answered as the mother had devised a special code so that only calls from other sect members would be picked up by her children.
The group eluded police for months, but early this year it was traced to a Panton Hill address. Police kept a watch on the house and late in April met CSV workers, explaining their involvement with the Children of God.