The European Court of Human Rights ruled to remove children from families in a Christian sect because they refused to stop using caning as punishment.
The court, or ECHR, upheld the ruling of Germany’s judiciary, which initially decided to remove eight children from the Twelve Tribes sect, based in Bavaria, in 2013, according to The Associated Press. The human rights court said Germany’s decision was justifiable in light of the “risk of inhuman or degrading treatment” to children, since parents in the sect remained steadfast in their view that caning, or other forms of corporal punishment, were necessary.
“The parents had remained convinced during the proceedings that corporal punishment was acceptable,” the court noted, according to AP.
The court added that, other than taking the children away, German authorities “had no other option available to them to protect the children.”
Wolfram Kuhnigk, a German journalist who went undercover and infiltrated the sect in 2013, captured footage of 50 instances of Twelve Tribes parents systematically caning small children in a darkened basement. That footage and other evidence prompted German authorities to raid two Twelve Tribes compounds and place 40 children in foster care in September 2013 by court order, according to The Independent.
The case before the ECHR concerned four families within the sect who challenged the court ordered removal of the children. The ECHR noted that “even if they would have agreed to no caning, there had been no way of ensuring that it would not be carried out by other members of the community.”
Former members of the cult recounted various instances of extreme punishment, such adult members beating one child over a series of days at 2 a.m. for wetting his bed and beating the same child at age 14 for imitating an airplane.
“It’s normal to be beaten every day,” Christian, a former member who escaped the cult in 1998, told The Independent.
A former high school teacher founded the cult in 1970 in Tennessee. The cult has since spread, with branches in Canada, Argentina, the U.K., Germany, Spain, France, Australia, and the Czech Republic. The cult’s website addresses the members’ use of corporal punishment, saying that it is encouraged and that parents are to do so promptly in the instance of a child’s disobedience with a “small reed-like rod.”
“The rod removes guilt from their soul and trains them to do good,” the website says.
“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,” the website continues, later adding a strictly literal interpretation of Proverbs 13:24 as evidence that God’s Word commands the practice.
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