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'Polygamist sect forcing girls into early marriages'

world Updated: Apr 19, 2008 11:11 IST

Girls in the west Texas polygamous sect enter into underage marriages without resistance because they are ruthlessly indoctrinated from birth to believe disobedience will lead to their damnation, experts for the state has testified at a custody hearing for 416 youngsters.

The renegade Mormon sect's belief system "is abusive. The culture is very authoritarian," said Dr Bruce Perry, a psychiatrist and an authority on children in cults, said on Friday.

But under questioning from defence lawyers who lined up in the courtroom aisles to have a turn at each witness, the state's experts acknowledged that the sect mothers are loving parents and that there were no signs of abuse among younger girls and any of the boys.

The testimony came on Day 2 of an extraordinary mass hearing over an attempt by the state of Texas to strip the parents of custody and place the children in foster homes away from the compound inhabited by members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

A witness for the parents, presented by defence lawyers as an expert on the FLDS, disputed the state's contention that a bed in the retreat's gleaming white temple was used to consummate the marriages of underage girls to much older men.

Instead, W John Walsh testified, it is used for naps during the sect's long worship services.

"There is no sexual activity in the temple," Walsh said.

The children were seized this month in a raid on the desert compound because of evidence of physical and sexual abuse, including the forcing of underage girls into marriage and childbearing.