Sect Children Seized
By Michael Magazanik and Lisa Kearns
More than 130 children were taken into protective custody in Victoria and New South Wales yesterday, after dawn raids on the homes of people believed to be followers of the Children of God sect.
In Melbourne last night, Community Services Victoria told a children's court that 60 children taken into custody in Victoria were members of the sect and that there was an immediate risk the children would "disappear" if they were released from CSV's care.
CSV's legal counsel told the court there was concern about impairment to the children's emotional and intellectual development because of their association with the Children of God sect.
CSV alleged there were flies, rats, and poor sanitation at the homes that were raided. Food was found that was more than 12 months past the use-by date and the children's living conditions were "very poor".
Lawyers for members of the sect failed at the sitting to have the children released to their parents. The magistrate ordered that the children be kept in CSV's custody until Monday and that they have no contact with their parents. He also ordered that the children see a psychologist to assess any trauma associated with yesterday's raids.
The Victorian raids - carried out by police and child welfare officers from CSV - took place about 5am on a house in outer-suburban Panton Hill and a farmhouse near Glenlyon, in central Victoria.
The children taken into custody were aged between two and 13. Thirty-five were taken from the farmhouse near Glenlyon and 25 from the Panton Hill home.
One man was arrested during the Glenlyon raid and police said last night that he would be charged on summons with hindering police.
In NSW, raids were carried out in Sydney's north-western suburbs about 6am by a joint group of local detectives, police child mistreatment investigators and Department of Community Services officers. An hour later, 72 children had been taken into custody from four houses in Cherrybrook and Castle Hill.
Late last night, however, lawyers representing the children's parents warned the NSW Government's Crown solicitor that an "extreme error" had been made: instead of aiming the raids at sect members, the police had raided the communal houses of a group of born-again Christians, only some of whom were former followers of the sect.
Police seized documents in the Sydney raids, including literature and documents allegedly implicating the sect in a number of illegal activities.
In Victoria, a spokeswoman for the Minister for Community Services, Ms Setches, said that 12 babies had been left at the homes raided by police and welfare officers.
"It was our judgment that they were too young to be removed. It's a matter of balance and it's not to say they won't be removed in the future. Their condition will be monitored," the spokeswoman said.
The minister's spokeswoman said the raids were in response to information about the children's way of life and allegations that they had been emotionally abused. The spokeswoman said the children were at first taken to Janefield, a CSV establishment.
A formal statement issued by CSV said the houses were "believed to be occupied by members of the Children of God ... CSV (is) required by law to act on information received about children".
The spokewoman said it was unclear whether the adults at the houses were the children's natural parents. The spokeswoman said that at one of the houses there were five adults and 40 children.
Earlier this year, police spent days in court fighting for a protection order over nine children whose mother belonged to the sect. The children's father -who left the Children of God after 19 years - had told police he feared for the safety of his children.
The court heard allegations about bizarre sexual practices and the sect's rejection of higher education because it sowed doubt in children's minds. The hearing has been adjourned until 22 June. It is not known whether the children involved in this hearing were among those taken by police in yesterday's raids.
Last night's sitting came after an order made in the Victorian Supreme Court by Mr Justice Gray that the children taken in the raids should be sent to an urgent hearing in a children's court.
Mr Justice Gray made the order after hearing from Mr Michael Dowling, QC, for one of the children, that CSV was holding the children illegally at its complex in Bundoora.