German police have raided the properties of a little-known Christian fundamentalist sect in the state of Bavaria and removed 40 children amid mounting allegations of persistent child abuse.
State prosecutors today launched a detailed investigation into the activities of the secretive religious community.
Twenty-eight children were taken away from a property belonging to the “Twelve Tribes” sect in the village of Deiningen in a dawn raid early on Thursday.
A further 12 children were removed from another of the sect’s community homes in a nearby village.
Bavarian state prosecutors said they had ordered the raids because they had received reports from former sect members alleging cases of persistent child abuse within the sect’s communities.
“There were clear signs of physical punishment and psychological abuse,” said Helmut Beyschlag, the Bavarian court spokesman who is also leading the investigation.
He said the evidence included reports that sect members used “willow rods” to beat children and that young people were forcibly isolated for “weeks and months” as a form of punishment .
Mr Beyschlag said there was also evidence that sect members practised so-called “restraining” on infants – whereby a child’s limbs and head are tightly swaddled to prevent them moving.
Police said the children had acted very unusually and “without emotion” as officers took them away from their parents and drove them to state children’s homes in the area.
“They did not cry and they did not cling to their parents’ – it makes you think,” said a juvenile care officer..
The fundamentalist “Twelve Tribes” was founded in America. Its adherents consider the Old and New Testament’s to be God’s direct word. A branch of the sect was established in Bavaria 14 years ago. Its 100 odd members live in isolation, grow their own vegetables, keep livestock and produce their own electricity.
The sect says on its website that it believes in “spanking” disobedient children and uses a “small reed like rod” to inflict “pain and not damage.”
It adds: “We know that some people consider this aspect of our life controversial, but we have seen from experience that discipline keeps a child from becoming mean-spirited and disrespectful of authority.”
An agricultural worker employed at one of the sect’s communities told Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung yesterday that he had seen children caught squabbling taken indoors by adult members. “When they came back some were crying and some weren’t. It is impossible to tell what goes on there,” he said.
A sect member described the police raid as a “nightmare” yesterday. Asked about allegations that children were subjected to beatings, she replied: “We love all our children more than anything else and we do not mistreat them.”
The sect faced similar allegations last year. State prosecutors established that although physical punishment was inflicted on its members, the levels were not sufficient to warrant prosecution.