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CHILDREN IN CULTS  

In the beginning of May 2002 there was a conference in Barcelona about children in cults. The conference was arranged by FECRIS - Fédération Européenne des Centres de Recherche et d'Information sur le Sectarisme (European Federation of Centers of Research and Information on Sectarism) with members and correspondents representing 37 associations from 26 countries.

One of the speakers was Turid Berger, lawyer and leader of a Norweigan project called "Go on", organized by Save the Children in Norway. We have got her permission to quote her lecture:

SAVE THE CHILDREN'S PROJECT "GO-ON"

Helping second generation ex-members enter society after leaving isolated religious communities/New Religious Movements (NRM)

Turid Berger (projectleader)

First of all I want to thank you for inviting us to this meeeting.

Us are: Angelina Dyke and Andrew McMillion who are second-generation ex-members of "The Family". At the present both are students at the University in Oslo. They will speak for themselves later.

And myself, Turid Berger, who is the leader of the Norwegian project "Go-on". My professional background is as family mediator and attorney-at-law.

There are two more members working in the project, Randi Enes and Ellen Kartnes. Their expertise are as skilled social workers, with many years experience within child-care, Civil Service and local administrations.

The entire three are working part-time on the project.

***************

The project "Go-on" was a pilot project lasting for two years and terminated in the end of December 2001.

Young people who had left "The Family" initiated the project.
In the summer 1999 some of them managed to meet with the Minister of Education and Research. The Minister promised them some funding.

The next step was to find someone to carry out a project. They then met with Save the Children, Norway.

As you probably know Save the Children is a non-governmental organisation working for Children´s Rights. From this perspective (children´s rights), Save the Children found the subject area very interesting, and entered into a co-operation with Ellen, Randi and myself.

Since the very beginning we have been in close contact with the initiators. And further on we have also had frequent contact with all the others who have called upon us.

This close contact has given us unique insight in their struggle for establishing themselves as independent individuals in the society.

***************

The objectives of the project have been:

First of all to give practical help to those who needed such assistance. The starting point was to help them obtain their rights in the Norwegian society. This has been the most challenging part of the work. Both those who have left isolated religious communities abroad and those who have left such in Norway, were not equipped with the knowledge that was needed to orientate in society. Worse than that, the authorities met them with scepticism and disbelief and knew nothing about the subject area.

Secondly we should collect information about the subject.

And thirdly, from our experience in the project we should advice the Ministry what to do ahead.

During these two years, in fact nearly three years, we have had personal contact with more than 150 persons. Most of them were between 18 and 30 years of age, some younger and some older.

Several are parents themselves, struggling with their parenthood.

They have left or have been expelled from different religious communities. Some are Norwegian communities only, and some are international.

We have been in contact with different professionals, historians, sociologists, anthropoligists, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, school-leaders, teachers, child-care workers, doctors, health centres, jobcentres, Social Security offices, etc.

We have looked for literature, researches, articles etc on children in religious communities. The books we have collected are mostly about adults. Some articles focus on children. Most of them are about sex abuse accusations and child custody disputes.

And we have surfed on Internet on several addresses.

We have also been in contact with the leaders of four different communities. And they welcome us to talk to the young people in their community about Children's rights.

***************

What did we find?

Shortly I will say that several articles in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child have been violated.

The most important violations are against children's right

  • to form and express their own views, and that their views are given due weight (article 12).
  • to freedom of expression, that includes the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kind (article 13)
  • to freedom of thought, conscience and religion (article 14)
  • to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health and treatment (article 24)
  • to education that develops the child´s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential. The education shall among other things prepare the child for responsible life in a free society (articles 28 and 29).
  • to rest and leisure, to engage in play and activities appropriate to the child´s age, and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts (article 31).

Several of our contacts have also been exposed to punishable offences, such as birching and spanking, isolation, humiliations and sexual abuse.

As I mentioned earlier, there are few books on the subject, and most of the professionals know less than little about the challenges those meet who try to settle in the society after having lived all their life in an isolated religious community.

***************

Our experience is that leaders in isolated religious communities as well as the leaders in mainstream Christian congregations speak more about parent's rights than children's rights.

We have a vital discussion in Norway at the present - about exemption from mandatory education in religious and ethical subjects. Parents, teachers and politicians all talk about their own opinion. Nobody talks about how a child shall be able to form their own opinion so they can choose at the age of 15, weather they want to have the same religion as their parents, another religion or maybe none at all.

The adults refer to the European Convention on Human Rights, which among other things establishes parent's rights to demand that their children receive a religious or philosophical education according to the parent's belief.

This freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and necessary to protect public safety, order, health or morals, or the fundamental rights and freedom of others. (Others are children also.)

***************

The project is now in a new phase:

We have given our recommendation to the Ministry. And we recommend focusing on information and education on all levels.

We have not yet received the final answer, but are continuing working as if they will accept the suggestions.

It would be very helpful if you could share with us knowledge on the following areas:

  • In trying to get research and systematic knowledge about second generation who have been born in, and grown up within New religious movements.
  • In trying to make contacts with governmental departments that have knowledge in these areas.
  • To gain insight into research and systematic knowledge of how to the second-generation ex-members adjust to their new position in society at large.
  • To find research on how the individuals who are born in and have grown up in a NRM create meaning and coherence in their lives when he or she tries to acclimatize him or herself to an unfamiliar society.

Finally I want to say:

Some times during this nearly three years I have heard stories that have made me furious and in despair. And I have wanted revenge on behalf of those who have suffered. But they do not want revenge themselves! What they want most of all, are that their parents approve their choices.

This is food for thought, ladies and gents.

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