Aussie courts free religious sect children
SYDNEY - Australian courts in Sydney and Melbourne have freed more than 120 children seized in dawn police raids from communal houses belonging to a controversial religious sect.
A judge ordered the release of 56 children from protective custody in Victoria while a Sydney court on Thursday returned another 65 children to their parents.
Parents of the children, aged two to 14, however, were ordered to surrender their passports, not to change their addresses, and to agree to be assessed by psychologists.
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.
But both courts said it was in the children's best interest for them to be allowed home.
Lawyers for the children had demanded that the case be dropped, saying there was no proof to back the claims of physical and emotional abuse. No charges were laid.
Mr Greg Woods, counsel for one communal household, said that 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 have often been used," he said.
In Melbourne, Judge Ian Gray rejected an application from the welfare authorities that the children remain in custody pending an appeal to the Victoria Supreme Court against their release.
One senior welfare worker told the court that the children reported that they were beaten with sticks and made to smile at all times.
The Sydney court was told that the Children of God disbanded in the 1980s after allegations of corruption in the United States. But such groups still existed.