A German court has rejected a bid by a couple that belongs to a strict religious sect that regards beating children as God’s will to give them back parental rights.
But the ruling is, at the moment, largely academic, as the whereabouts of the parents, who are believed to have kidnapped their 11-year-old daughter from her foster parents with whom she had lived since the age of three, are unknown.
A Europe-wide arrest warrant has been issued for the parents, who are believed to have kidnapped their biological daughter after she left her foster parents’ home to go for a jog and did not return.
The biological parents then filed a request remotely for custody of the girl, but this has now been rejected by the court, which confirmed that the girl needs to be returned to her foster parents.
Police issued this image of the young girl Shalomah Hennigfeld, who is from the south-western Bavarian municipality of Holzheim, confirming that there has been no sign of her since she vanished in October last year, making international headlines.
The parents who carried out the alleged kidnapping are members of the Twelve Tribes sect, which is known for its unorthodox teachings, such as that beating children to break them into blind obedience is “God’s will”.
The Twelve Tribes sect was founded in the US state of Tennessee, but has an international following, including in Germany, where a community was raided in 2013, with a number of children confiscated after undercover footage revealed how the adults beat them with a rod.
Shalomah was one of the several children seized at the time and placed with foster parents, with whom she lived until her alleged kidnapping last year.
At the time, the sect members challenged the confiscation, claiming that they beat the children for discipline. But despite the complaint, the European Court of Human Rights later agreed with Germany that children should be removed from the sect.
Shalomah’s devastated foster parents, who raised her as their own daughter over the years, received two emails, one from members of the cult and a second from her biological parents reportedly assuring them that “Shalomah is fine”.
Markus Trieb from the Swabia North Police Headquarters said: “There are currently no findings that would make us doubt the authenticity of the email. We are still in the process of verifying this email.”
Regarding the whereabouts of the young girl, the police issued a missing persons appeal saying: “It may be that the girl is still in the country, but we cannot rule out that she is abroad either.”
Sect expert Georg Otto Schmid said: “The founder of the Twelve Tribes taught that the community will be active for 50 years, and then Jesus will come again and will receive the children as the pure generation, as his bride. Then the children must be ready.”
He said that parents who had had their offspring taken away from them by the authorities had been successful in about 50 percent of cases in getting them back, adding: “This has been successful in half the cases. So around half of these children are back with the community.”
Schmid confirmed that the sect members believe in beating their children, adding that followers think that “a better world will come when we raise a pure generation” and “that means that they must obey – absolute obedience. You can no longer have a will of your own”.
Anybody who has any information about the missing child is asked to contact police in Dillingen on +49 9071 56-0.