Children Held For Another Night
By Fiona Athersmith and Sonya Voumard
The children at the centre of a custody dispute involving the Children of God sect spent another night in state care after negotiations to allow them to go home became deadlocked yesterday.
A Children's Court magistrate announced that the interim accommodation orders made last Friday would continue until 10am today.
In Sydney, however, a lawyer representing families of the children taken into custody said six children, aged 15 and 16, were released yesterday. The remaining 66 were the subject of formal applications before the Children's Court.
A Queen's counsel representing the NSW Department of Community Services said in court that four or five witnesses from NSW and other parts of Australia would be called "who would give evidence in detail on some of the specific allegations, some of the practices in the sect households".
She said the evidence concerned events that took place 18 months to five years ago. There had been literature in a household during that period and there was "some evidence in that literature of sexual contact between adolescents and other adolescents in that household and some sexual contact between adults and adolescents," the lawyer alleged.
In Melbourne during the afternoon, lawyers for the children, their parents, and Community Services Victoria tried to negotiate conditions for the children's release pending a protection application hearing. A Queen's counsel appearing for 34 of the 56 children told the court that they wanted to go home and did not want to stay where they were.
More than 130 children were seized in dawn raids in Victoria and NSW on Friday. CSV took the children into protective custody because of concerns about their emotional and psychological wellbeing.
The children's lawyer in Melbourne, who described the situation as a crisis generated by CSV, said negotiations had hit a stumbling block over whether the children had to go to an ordinary school. He said the issue was philosophical and should not affect the children's release.
The lawyer, who said there were no allegations of sexual or physical abuse, asked for their immediate release. The magistrate said he was not in a position to release the children without the issues being canvassed before him.
A lawyer for some of the parents said the children appeared to have been apprehended so they could be questioned during the weekend. He said it was more of a fishing expedition than a reasonable belief that the children were at risk.
The children's lawyer said the philosophy of the Children and Young Persons Act 1989, under which the children are being held, was that children ought not to be separated from their parents unless it was the last resort. "This is not the case here." He said CSV had launched a commando-style operation to remove the children from their homes in pre-dawn raids. "Doors were not broken down, but ... children, ranging from babies to 14 year-olds, were just ripped out of their beds and taken away." The lawyer said it was hypocritical of CSV to leave children under the age of two with their parents and yet take the others.
Lawyers for the parents and the children asked CSV to produce all documents relating to the seizing of the children. The CSV lawyer said his client was not on trial and the relevant departmental officers would be at court today with their notes.
The lawyer appearing for the families in Sydney said they were from independent Christian communities, not the Children of God sect. He said some of the children in Sydney had complained that they had been kept in unhygienic conditions during the weekend and wanted to go home.
The lawyer said the children released were "perfectly normal". There was no evidence that they had been subject to any improper sexual behavior. He said the authorities were conducting "paper warfare" around a case which was "a house of cards".