Courts Free All Sect Children Seized In Dawn Raids
SYDNEY, May 22, Reuter - Australian courts in Sydney and Melbourne have released more than 120 children seized in dawn police raids from communal houses belonging to a controversial religious sect.
But parents of the children, aged two to 14, were ordered to surrender their passports, not to change address, and to agree to be assessed by psychologists.
A judge ordered the release of 56 children from protective custody in Victoria while late on Thursday a Sydney court returned another 65 children to their parents.
Last Friday police and social workers seized children who they claimed were being subjected to emotional and physical abuse in raids on houses linked to the sect known as Children of God in New South Wales and Victoria.
However, both courts said it was in the children's best interests for them to be allowed home.
Lawyers for the children had demanded the case be dropped, saying there was no evidence to support the claims of physical and emotional abuse. No charges were laid.
Greg Woods, counsel for one communal household, said it was not the Sydney court's function to keep children in custody while the authorities created a case.
"In the long and sad history of religious and cultural persecution, the techniques of separating children from their parents has often been used," Woods said.
In Melbourne, Judge Ian Gray rejected an application from welfare authorities that the children remain in custody pending an appeal to the Victoria Supreme Court against their release.
One senior welfare worker said the children had told of being beaten with sticks and made to smile at all times.
The children lived secluded lives, did not attend normal schools and were not allowed contact with the outside world, she told the court.
The Sydney court was told the Children of God disbanded in the 1980s after allegations of corruption in the United States, but groups had re-established to continue living in small communities around the world.