Sect Fails In Court Bid For Children
By Lisa Kearns
Children said to belong to The Children of God sect are in the care of Community Services Victoria after lawyers for sect members failed in a late night bid to have them released to their parents.
In a children's court sitting last night, Community Services Victoria alleged there was an immediate risk the children would "simply disappear" if they were released from its care.
Counsel for CSV told the court it was seeking an interim accommodation order for "some 70 kids". CSV's counsel also said that all the children had "flee bags" (a term used by the sect) to enable rapid escape should they attract attention outside the sect. He said that three sect houses in Melbourne had packed up and moved within 24 hours.
After the initial magistrate excused himself because he listened to private representations about the matter yesterday, the hearing finally got under way at 6.40pm with a new magistrate.
The magistrate rejected submissions by lawyers for the parents and the children that it was an abuse of process for the children to be kept in CSV custody.
The magistrate adjourned the matter to Monday, saying it was too late at night to properly canvass matters of great complexity. "This matter ought to be ventilated at length properly, not before me in 15 minutes." He ordered that the children be kept in CSV custody, at an undisclosed location, until Monday and that they not be allowed contact with their parents. He also ordered that they see a psychologist to assess any trauma associated with the raids.
In court, CSV, through its lawyer, expressed concern about a significant impairment to the children's emotional and intellectual development because of their association with the sect.
CSV alleged that there were flies, rats, and poor sanitation at the homes raided early yesterday morning. Food was found that was more than 12 months past the use-by date, and the children's living conditions were very poor.
The lawyer for CSV said the children were living in extremely cramped quarters, such as adolescent girls sleeping in the same room as married couples. Some of the children were living without their parents and without adequate supervision.
The lawyer also said there was a substantial amount of cult literature at the premises. He said CSV was concerned that the children's education was so lacking that they were unable to make a decision whether to live in the general community or gain employment. None of the children attended a regular school.
He alleged that the Children of God sect was a "very mobile organisation" which could quickly fragment to different states or overseas as soon as pressure came upon it.
The CSV's lawyer said that the lack of a passport had not stopped sect members from travelling overseas in the past. He said one of the children, aged 12, had been relocated to 10 different countries, but had still lived in Victoria most of his life.
He said sect members would flee jurisdiction if given a chance and there was "every reason to fear these children will just disappear".
The lawyer said protective officers with CSV were also very worried that the children would be punished for "murmuring" or "backsliding" (telling non-sect members about the sect) to "systemites" (non-sect members).