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Children removed from religious compound in MoBay

Twenty-three children were yesterday removed from the Qahal Yahweh religious compound in Paradise, Montego Bay, St James, by several state agencies including the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA) and the police.

The CPFSA said the children, ages one to 17, were placed before the court and deemed to be in need of care and protection.

"The concerns relate to breaches in education and health," said Senior Superintendent Vernon Ellis, who is head of the St James Police Division.

"And a fire department inspection found electrical bridges and fire defence system among other concerns," Ellis added.

Michelle McIntosh Harvey, acting CEO of the CPFSA, said the agency had a duty, under the Child Care and Protection Act (CCPA), to intervene.

On Wednesday, between 5 a.m. and 9 a.m., some 50 police and soldiers carried out an operation at the premises, in collaboration with the CPFSA, the Centre for Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse, the fire department and the Criminal Investigation Bureau.

"The CPFSA is mandated to provide care and protection for children at risk or otherwise deemed to be in need of care and protection in Jamaica in keeping with the CCPA. During such situations, and as first responders, we would have acted accordingly in the best interest of the children involved, as their well being is our priority," said McIntosh Harvey.

The Qahal Yahweh compound is in close proximity to the former Pathways International Kingdom Restoration Ministries Church.

Pathways, which was led by late pastor Kevin Smith, gained international notoriety in 2021 after a bloody ordeal on October 17 ended with three persons dead, two of whom were allegedly sacrificed during a ritual. Smith later died in a motor vehicle crash as he was being transported to Kingston to be formally charged with various offences.