A woman has told a media conference her granddaughters, aged eight and six, were promised in marriage to members of the Agape Ministries cult.
This week police raided South Australian properties linked to Agape Ministries and found guns, high-powered ammunition and explosives they think may have been bound for the Pacific.
Lesley Baligod, who says she is the mother of a cult member, spoke at a media conference organised by independent Senator Nick Xenophon in Adelaide.
Ms Baligod says she is concerned for the safety of her two granddaughters.
“If they were successful getting to a remote island in Vanuatu, a third-world county isolated from medical help in case of emergency, [then they would be in trouble],” she told reporters.
“These people believe you don’t need doctors or hospitals. [They believe] all you do is pray to God and you’re cured.”
South Australia’s Families and Communities Minister Jennifer Rankine said her department was keeping a close eye on members of the Agape group.
Ms Rankine said she was aware of allegations that at least two children had been promised in marriage to older followers but there was no evidence of this and no indication the children were being mistreated.
Ms Baligod said her son became involved with Agape Ministries 17 years ago and the group had tried to recruit her other children.
“He’s buried himself in that church,” she said.
“You cannot argue with anybody who is completely brainwashed into a religious cult.
“If you try to say something, their eyes glaze over and they start praying in their head.”
South Australia’s Families and Communities Minister, Jennifer Rankine, says her department is keeping a close eye on members of the Agape group.
Ms Rankine says she is aware of complaints that at least two children had been promised in marriage to older followers.
Ms Baligod said she contacted Families SA two months ago to express her concerns but was eventually told nothing could be done.
“There are 12 children caught up in this cult. Where are they? What has happened to them? What is happening to them as we speak?” she said to reporters in Adelaide on Friday.
Police searching for Agape Ministries leader Rocco Leo now say they believe they know his whereabouts.
Independent Senator Nick Xenophon says he warned the South Australian Government about a suspicious doomsday cult in Adelaide and has called for the group’s assets to be frozen.
Senator Xenophon said he wrote to Families and Communities Minister Jennifer Rankine a month ago asking her to investigate and intervene in relation to the Agape Ministries.
His concerns followed a series of meetings with concerned relatives of cult members who raised serious allegations about the welfare of children.
The relatives were also concerned the group was planning to flee the country and might be a suicide cult, Senator Xenophon said today.
The group is understood to believe that the world will end in 2012.
Senator Xenophon said the state government’s response to his concerns was largely dismissive.
“I gained the distinct impression that Families SA was in no hurry to act,” he said.
“Thank goodness the police didn’t try and stuff this problem into the too-hard basket.”
Senator Xenophon said tougher laws were needed to deal with psychological abuse within cults.
“The department’s response shows how badly many authorities deal with cults and cult activities,” he said.
“They simply do not seem willing or able to address issues of psychological abuse and manipulation.”
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