Doc. 8379

20 April 1999

Illegal activities of sects

Opinion1

Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee

Rapporteur: Mr Gyula Hegyi, Hungary, Socialist Group

Introduction

1. As the new Millennium is coming, new sects and false religious teachers appear, making business on predicting the End of the World. There is nothing new in this phenomena, the same has already happened many times in the history of mankind. False teachers, dangerous sects and narrow-minded "religious" groups have always tried to pervert the natural sense of people for spiritual values. Modern media, new communication technologies, but also social exclusion, unemployment and the permanent crises of family structures and moral values, make them dangerous in these days.

2. The present opinion tries to avoid all kind of ideological considerations and any argument or presupposition of a religious, theological or spiritual nature. As regards these aspects, a reference can be made to the excellent report on Religion and Democracy by Mr de Puig (Doc. 8270), and to Recommendation 1396 adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly in January last.

3. The said report gives indeed a detailed picture of the role of religion in the modern world. As this report points out very correctly, none of the main religions advocate dangerous ideas or principles, however there is always a danger of the extremist activities of some fundamentalist groups inside or outside those religions.

4. The same remarks can be made for smaller religious communities. Most of them are harmless groups, even if their activities and teachings can be strange both for atheists and believers of the traditional religions.

5. Nevertheless some of them are really dangerous for society, especially for children, broken families and victims of social exclusion. If those groups commit crime, there is no any reason to protect them in the name of "religious freedom".

6. To give and exchange information on the existence of these groups and on their activities is undoubtedly very useful and can prevent pain and sorrow for many individuals and families. Measures should accordingly be encouraged by the Council of Europe.

7. Providing and broadcasting complete and relevant information on the activities of dangerous sects can prevent many troubles. Many dangerous sects try to behave like absolutely new or newly recreated groups. Revealing some facts and making a parallel with similar activities which led to tragedies in the past can change the mind of the would-be victims. If a woman learns that her charming partner has already promised marriage to a hundred other women, taking their money instead of marrying them, in many cases (not always) she will be ready to change her mind. The same remark could be made for sects.

A threat for social cohesion

8. It is an old experience that the dangerous sects generally catch their victims from the ranks of ill, poor, lonely, vulnerable or socially excluded persons. There are exceptions when people from upper classes are victimised by those sects, but even in these cases there are clear signs of the lack of normal human contacts or social relationship.

9. A good social network which cares not only about the basic material needs but also the social and psychological expectations of people is crucial to prevent the troubles resulting from the proselytism of the sects. Social workers should receive an adequate training to detect and understand the dangers of certain sects and their influence on their "protegees" in the early steps of the indoctrination.

10. Social care should also mean - without interfering religious debates - protection against the dangerous and degrading process of indoctrination.

11. In the case of the indoctrination of adults, whether ill, old and lonely or not, the accent should be put on prevention and information.

12. If crimes are committed, authorities should not hesitate to act promptly without any consideration to the "religious" arguments advocated by most sect gurus.

13. If the degrading process of the indoctrination does not reach the level of criminality, proper information, social care and adequate support can prove to be helpful for the adult victims.

14. In this field there is an important role for NGOs. As in the case of alcohol and drug addicts, the past experience and support of former victims can be extremely helpful to cure the new victims of those sects.

A threat for children and families

15. The Committee on Social, Health and Family Affairs is deeply concerned about the situation of children whose parents are members of a sect, and are themselves young victims. Some sects try to separate children from their families, and they could even try to turn them against their own parents. Most of the time, children do not attend school and live isolated from society. Deprived from education and social references, they live away from cultural and social reality. Moreover in many cases they are denied proper medical care.

16. The social isolation of young people is also shown in as far as social obligations are concerned (in particular for national service), and as concern employment and professional activities.

17. Even worse is the possible exploitation be it sexual or labour which is forced on minors in certain sects. It is easy to refer to certain cases which were widely reported in the past, such as the scandal of Children of God forced to prostitution.

18. In all these cases when children or adolescents belong to a sect, everything possible should be made to guarantee as far as possible the protection of their physical and mental integrity, and their social reintegration. The success of any action relies on a real will of the authorities to undertake such process, and also on a efficient co-operation between authorities, social care services and NGOs.

19. Signals should be detected as early as possible. Any time a child stops to attend school special actions should be made promptly, especially in the cases when children or youngsters are separated from their parents or families by any kind of groups. Normal attendance to school has to be the most important criteria. In the case of proper schooling many dangers can be avoided and eliminated without further actions. On the contrary, a child can be very easily lost for the society.

20. Of course, it is more difficult to act if parents are also involved in the activities of dangerous sects.

21. The integrity of a family is an important principle, but not an absolute value. If children are not allowed to attend the school, to get proper medical treatment and learn common education and certain commonly accepted sciences, the authorities should interfere in the long-term interest of the children.

A threat for people health

22. The Committee on Social, Health and Family Affairs recently dealt with the development of alternative medicine, in the framework of a draft report currently being discussed. It is at this point that abuses and excesses become a danger, as there are always those whom a lust for power or money causes to use alternative medicine for improper ends. There is thus a definite risk that it may be exploited by charlatans and also by sects.

23. Health is a dominant theme for sects, which use it to attract new converts, and are drawn to complementary medicine as a means of distancing their followers from medical practice in the outside world. When sects preach that conventional medicine is ineffective and that all treatment should be stopped, even for serious diseases such as cancer or Aids, the danger for individuals is considerable.

24. To take one example, the sect known as IVI (Invitation la vie) has set up a “health centre” in the south of France and includes among its followers a group of doctors and physiotherapists whose task is to recruit new members. A number of members with cancer have died after stopping all forms of treatment. The guru of the sect, a doctor, has been struck off the medical register and sentenced by the French courts.

Conclusions

25. Dangerous sects are built on secrecy and the lack of proper information on their existence and activities.

26. There is therefore a special responsibility of media. Public and even commercial media should join themselves more intensively with special campaigns on the dangers of some sects, as it is quite common in the case of drugs or AIDS.

27. Public awareness and clever information programs can be very useful for an effective prevention. More light and openness can help a lot in understanding and combating the dangers of sects.

Proposed amendments

28. The Committee on Social, Health and Family Affairs fully shares the preoccupations expressed by the Mr Adrian Nastase, Rapporteur of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, and congratulates him for its well balanced report, which deals with most problems.

29. Nevertheless the Committee would like to propose some amendments to the draft recommendation:

Amendment n 1:

Amendment n 2:

[The Committee fully subscribes to paragraph 9 of the draft recommendation. It therefore proposes to complete it with amendments 1 and 2 ]

Amendment n 3:

[The Committee suggests deleting this sub-paragraph, the meaning of which is a bit confusing ]

Amendment n 4:

The Committee also suggests to add two new sub-paragraphs:

Amendment n 5 :

Amendment n 6 :

*

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Reporting committee: Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights (Doc. 8373)

Committee for opinion: Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee

Reference to committee: Doc. 7826 and Reference N 2192 of 28 May 1997

Opinion approved by the committee on 14 April 1999

Secretaries to the committee: Mr Perin, Mrs Meunier, Mrs Clamer


1 See Doc. 8373