Twelve children have been removed from a camp in a remote bushland area in Australia after authorities exposed a horrific case of incest involving several generations of the same family.
Labelled the worst instance of incest in the nation's history, the case was exposed after locals spotted malnourished children in a valley who were not attending school. It involved 40 adults and children from four generations who lived in squalid caravans, tents and sheds about 20 miles from the nearest town.
Twelve children ranging in age from five to 16 years old were found in the camp, eleven of whom came from related parents. One child said he and his siblings were told never to tell anyone that their father was their grandfather.
The incest dated back decades and the children belonged to five different mothers, including three sisters aged 47, 46 and 33 who slept with their brother. Some of the children could not speak intelligibly, were shy and developmentally delayed, had poor hearing and sight, and were incapable of using a toothbrush, toilet paper or washing themselves. Some reportedly had physical deformities caused by having parents with identical gene patterns.
The other two mothers included a daughter of one of the sisters and were both found to be born from related parents. One of these mothers had a child who died of Zellweger syndrome, a rare genetic disease.
Genetic testing showed the incest may have been repeated over generations and involved children as young as five. There was no suggestion the families were part of a religious cult.
The sets of families apparently derived from a couple who married in New Zealand in 1966 and moved to Australia in the 1970s. As the group grew larger, it moved around Australia to avoid detection.
Since being taken into care, children as young as eight have revealed they have been sexually abused by underage siblings and cousins.
The children were discovered last year after police raided the camp, which had no electricity or running water. Locals had alerted authorities after observing several children who were not attending school. After the raid, one police officer told colleagues she would never recover from what she observed.
Locals said the families lived on an isolated farm but the men worked in the district and family members would shop in the town.
"Apart from the noise of the chainsaws, they didn't really worry us," a neighbour told The Sydney Morning Herald. "I knew there were children living up there, but I never heard any noise of laughing or playing."
The Children's Court in the state of New South Wales said there was evidence of "intergenerational incest" and ordered that the children be removed from the camp. They have since been placed with foster parents.
Authorities in the state of Victoria have also removed children from a related family which was not living in the camp.
The parents have been ordered to stay away from the children and one of the mothers has been charged after attempting to remove her child from care.
The children have come forward with harrowing reports of abuse. A 13-year-old girl reported sexual contact with her uncle, aged 9, while her aunt, aged 8, watched on. Two sisters aged 7 and 9 reported sexual contact with their brothers, aged 12, 14 and 15.
Four of the mothers have disputed the genetic evidence and insisted the children were from unrelated fathers. The men named as fathers were reportedly all dead or could not be located.