Concern is raised for those who have no choice about whether to join.

Cult watchers question the degree of mind control various cults exercise over their members. It is a matter of debate how much choice the young adult cultists are capable of asserting. But today there is an increasingly visible group of individuals who are unequivocally without choice: small children.

Many of the controversial new religious groups are now 15 or 20 years old. “Cult life,” notes writer and researcher Marcia Rudin, “undergoes change. One of these major changes is that cults are becoming a family matter.”

And it is not necessarily a very pleasant family matter at that. Rudin points out that of the 913 people who died at Jonestown, a third (276) were small children and early teen-agers. Margaret Singer, a University of California at Berkeley psychologist who counseled children who escaped Guyana, learned of frightening child abuse there.

Children above age six were forced to work in jungle construction from 7 A.M. to 6 P.M. daily, in temperatures as high as 120 degrees. As punishment, some were thrown into dark wells after being told snakes awaited them there. Two six-year-olds who unsuccessfully attempted escape had balls and chains welded to their ankles. More than once young girls were forced to masturbate publicly because their parents spoke when forbidden.

Appallingly, the horror of Jonestown, while extreme, is hardly unique. Singer enumerates a long list of abuses that afflict cult children to varying degrees:

• Physical punishment tends to be severe, often intensified by the leadership’s belief that one may “beat out the devil, beat out the evil in children.”

• The “bizarre and unhealthy diets” may not be good for mature cult members, but they ...

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