In Texas, a judge signed an order allowing parents to take back home their children (photo, from dallasnews.com). More than 400 kids, seized from a polygamist sect in April have started returning home.
Members of the sect were accused by officials of forcing young girls into under-age sex.
But the Texas Supreme Court decided to send the children back, saying that officials had failed to prove that the children faced immediate danger.
The Associated Press news agency reported emotional reunions between parents and their children.
“It’s just a great day”, said Nancy Dockstader, as she embraced one of five children taken by authorities.
129 children were returned to their parents on Monday, AP reported.
As some siblings were hundreds of miles apart, it was expected that all the families reunions would take several days.
Terms have been set on the parents, said AP : they are prohibiting from leaving the state without court permission, and ordered to take parenting classes.
The court also ordered them not to interfere with the investigation into child abuse, and if necessary, to allow the children to undergo medical tests.
Welfare workers must be allowed unannounced visits and any journey within the state of more than 100 miles (160km) must be given prior permission.
“We’re really grateful to get the order signed”, said Willie Jessop, an elder for the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He added that a new policy in the church would prevent under-age girls from marrying.
“The church will counsel families that they neither request nor consent to any underage marriages”, he said, adding that within the church, marriages had always been consensual.
It was not immediately clear how many of the children would return to the ranch.
Sex with older men
The parents had won two earlier court rulings, saying that the children were not in immediate danger, and the sect had always denied the abuse accusations.
In April someone called a domestic abuse hotline from the ranch (photo, from bbc.co.uk), and said she was a pregnant 16-year-old abused by a much older husband. Then the authorities took the children from the sect’s Yearning For Zion ranch, near the town of Eldorado.
But as the girl has never been found, authorities are now investigating whether the calls were a hoax.
Half of the children taken into foster care were no older than five.
According to officials, there was systemic sexual and physical abuse, including the “grooming” of girls to accept sex with older men, once reaching puberty.
The sect teaches its followers that polygamy brings glorification in heaven.