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Texas sect children return home

A woman from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints reunites with her child. Photo: 2 June 2008
By Monday's end, 129 children were returned to their parents, reports say

More than 400 children who were seized from a polygamist sect in Texas have begun returning home.

A judge in Texas signed an order allowing parents to take the children, who were removed from the sect's ranch by state authorities in April.

Officials had accused members of the sect of forcing young girls into under-age sex.

But last week the Texas Supreme Court said officials had failed to prove the children faced immediate danger.

Following Monday's ruling the first parents had emotional reunions with their children, the Associated Press news agency reported.

"It's just a great day," said Nancy Dockstader, as she embraced one of five children taken by authorities.

On Monday, 129 children were returned to their parents, AP reported.

It was expected to take several days for all the families to be reunited, as some siblings were separated at facilities hundreds of miles apart.

'Grateful'

The ruling placed conditions on the parents, including prohibiting them from leaving the state without court permission and ordering them to take parenting classes, AP said.

They were also ordered not to interfere with the investigation into child abuse and to allow the children to undergo medical tests if necessary.

Welfare workers must be allowed unannounced visits and any journey within the state of more than 100 miles (160km) must be given prior permission.

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Willie Jessop, an elder for the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, said: "We're really grateful to get the order signed."

He also said that under a new policy, the church would not allow under-age girls to marry.

"The church will counsel families that they neither request nor consent to any under-age marriages," he said, adding that marriages within the church had always been consensual.

It was not immediately clear how many of the children would return to the ranch.

The sect has always denied any abuse took place and the parents had won two earlier court rulings that the children were not in immediate danger.

The children were taken from the sect's Yearning For Zion ranch near the town of Eldorado in April after someone called a domestic abuse hotline claiming to be a pregnant 16-year-old abused by a much older husband.

The girl has never been found and authorities are investigating whether the calls were a hoax.

Half of the children taken into foster care were no older than five.

Officials had alleged there was systemic sexual and physical abuse, including the "grooming" of girls to accept sex with older men once reaching puberty.

The sect teaches that polygamy brings glorification in heaven.

It is a splinter sect of the Mormon Church, which officially abandoned polygamy more than a century ago.


SEE ALSO
Major blow to Texan sect probe
02 Jun 08 |  Americas
Court win for Texas sect parents
29 May 08 |  Americas
Custody battle in Texas sect case
20 May 08 |  Americas
Texan sect inquiry finds injuries
01 May 08 |  Americas
Texas sect girls 'mostly mothers'
29 Apr 08 |  Americas

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