Authorities investigate allegations of Gloriavale women trafficked to India

A small, secretive lodged New Zealand farming community faces several charges

Victims of Gloriavale Rosanna Overcomer, Theophila Pratt and Pearl Valor speak of their experience on I News Breakfast Show (Screenshot)

Tim Brown RNZ
Dunedin, March 31, 2024

Authorities are investigating concerns from a leading Human Rights Lawyer that women from Gloriavale were trafficked to India and entered coerced marriages.

‘Escaping Utopia,’ a TVNZ documentary series recently showed that former Gloriavale members Theophila Pratt and Rosanna Overcomer travelled to India and met with Pratt’s sister Precious.

Precious moved to India seven years ago and now has six children.

She was among five women born in Gloriavale, who had mothered children in India.

Pratt and Overcomer were deeply disturbed by what they found and contacted Deborah Manning, a specialist in Refugee, Immigration And Human Rights Law, and asked her to look into their concerns.

Barrister Brian Henry takes the government to court over slow action against abuse: from Morning Report by Radio New Zealand.

Editor’s Note and Caution
According to Wikipedia, the Gloriavale Christian Community (also known as the Cooperites) is a small and isolated community located at Haupiri on the West Coast of the South Island, New Zealand. It has an estimated population of 700 as of June 2023. Gloriavale was founded in 1969 by travelling evangelist Neville Cooper (who later changed his name to Hopeful Christian).
Originating as the Springbank Christian Community, the group established a settlement called Gloriavale in the South Island’s West Coast Region during the 1990s. Gloriavale Christian Community became a self-sufficient community with its own school and various agricultural, tourism, and transportation businesses including a short-lived airline called Air West Coast.
According to Gloriavale Leavers Supporters Trust, “Gloriavale is a reclusive, isolated Commune on the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand, consisting of around 90 families (550 members). They claim to be a Christian Community based on the New Testament. Like many in the Anabaptist tradition, they hold the Book of Acts in high regard, considering it a fundamental part of their religious doctrine and belief system to live together communally and share resources.”
Gloriavale has been in the news and under investigation on several charges including physical, psychological, spiritual and sexual abuse. The following is an excerpt from a report by Emma Gleason in The New Zealand Herald: “In a covert visit captured by Escaping Utopia, two former members of Gloriavale – accompanied by an undercover camera crew – go inside the gates of the organisation’s Indian outpost. Gloriavale is lodged firming, infamously in the New Zealand psyche. By now Kiwis are very familiar with the reclusive West Coast community in the South Island.
“Less known is the community Gloriavale established in India in recent years. Located in the state of Tamil Nadu, the property is modelled on the original Gloriavale community in Greymouth. It is understood that before his death, Hopeful Christian had established a second Gloriavale community near Tirunelveli in Tamil Nadu, India.
Readers may find the contents of this story and Escaping Utopia disturbing and hence discretion is advised.

A welcome sign at the Gloriavale Christian Community in New Zealand
(RNZ Photo by Jean Edwards)

Lawyer Manning triggers action

Manning told RNZ that she had written to the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment and the Police.

“We have raised serious concerns of trafficking under the Crimes Act as well as coerced marriage. As expected, the agencies have clicked immediately into gear and are taking this very seriously. It is led out of MBIE, in terms of the trafficking issue, along with the New Zealand Police and there are other agencies involved as well. So, it is being taken seriously and there is active work underway.”

MBIE Head of Irregular Migration and Trafficking Kylie Seumanu confirmed that she had received a letter.

“MBIE is aware of a connection in India and, along with other agencies, has recently received a formal legal letter on this matter. Immigration Investigators will be making enquiries and assessing the letter, along with the other relevant agencies,” she said.

Police also confirmed their awareness of the connection in India and that they had received a formal legal letter.

They would not confirm whether they were investigating trafficking.

Oranga Tamariki and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade were also involved.

More on this Topic from 1 News:
Gloriavale man sentenced to 11 years for sexual offending
New doco sheds light on what it takes to leave Gloriavale
Less Govt oversight for Gloriavale community

Ministry aware, but no help sought

An MFAT spokesperson said the Ministry was aware of the issues raised in Escaping Utopia.

“The Ministry has not been approached to provide consular assistance at this stage. We are, however, actively looking into the situation and considering what further actions should be taken.”

A Gloriavale spokesperson provided a statement to RNZ: “We are in constant contact with our brethren in India and have heard no complaints from them on these issues. Our New Zealand women who went to India and married there did so of their own free will and with the convictions that they had in their own hearts. Some of those people have also returned to New Zealand with their families, and then gone back to India. Family relatives from New Zealand also visit them regularly.”

Alarming documentary

In the documentary, Pratt spoke to Faithful Stronghold, the Leader of Gloriavale’s outpost in rural India and asked why she had come to India. She told him that she had concerns for her sister and nieces and did not want them to experience any sexual abuse.

Lawyer Deborah Manning has written to the New Zealand Police and MBIE about the alleged abuses at Gloriavale (RNZ Photo by Cole Eastham-Farrelly)

Manning said that the footage was shocking.

“I think anyone watching the Gloriavale documentary would have been alarmed in terms of what they saw of the Gloriavale Indian community and what they heard in terms of the descriptions of conditions there and the conditions and circumstances in which the women from Gloriavale in New Zealand went to that community,” she said.

She described what had happened to those women as being unique in New Zealand.

“I cannot think of being involved in a situation like this,” she said.

Stronghold’s comments alluded to a rape culture in the community, Manning said.

Precious told her sister that her passport was held by Stronghold.

“Children are being born there to Kiwi mums that are undocumented – their births are not even registered and so if those New Zealand mums wanted to come back, how could they travel? The children do not have documentation or passports, so that is a real concern in terms of freedom of movement and impacting their choices,” Manning said.

She said that she had heard that they do not seem to have control of their passports.

“These are all serious multi-layered issues and we also have issues concerning consent and coercion . . . and it is complicated because this particular issue is happening outside New Zealand’s jurisdiction,” Manning said.

Manning was pleased with the seriousness with which authorities were treating the matter. “As soon as the authorities were made aware of concerns under the Crimes Act, they immediately moved into action and they’re actively looking into that. So I just want to let them do their job and trust them to do that,” she said.

Barrister Brian Henry goes to court accusing government departments of failure
(RNZ Photo by Nate McKinnon)

Brian Henry moves Court

It comes as Barrister Brian Henry on Tuesday filed legal proceedings in the High Court accusing a group of government departments of failing to protect the women and children of Gloriavale.

MBIE’s Labour Inspectorate is among the respondents, alongside at least the Department of Internal Affairs, Oranga Tamariki and the Ministry of Social Development.

Henry told Morning Report that instead of helping the women he represented, the government had enabled their abusers.

“They were left alone in an organisation that, from what I can see, is run by self-entitled males who think they their little playthings,” he said.

On 6 December, he wrote to Prime Minister Christopher Luxon, Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, Act Party Leader David Seymour as well as Attorney-General Judith Collins, Social Development Minister Louise Upston and Education Minister Erica Stanford.

“My clients seek immediate action at the ministerial level to close the Gloriavale community. Enabling ongoing abuse of little children by the dint of their birth into the community is a gross dereliction of their duty. On the previous government’s watch, the government and officials involved have enabled the continuation of the entrapment of those born into the community, a community that the police have now demonstrated has bred and will continue to breed males who commit serious sexual abuse, serious criminal offending against vulnerable young females,” Henry’s letter said.

Only Louise Upston has thus far confirmed that she had received and read the letter.

Luxon, Seymour and Stanford said that they were unaware of or had not read it.

The Ministry of Social Development, Oranga Tamariki, the Department of Internal Affairs and the Labour Inspectorate would not be interviewed or comment on the legal filings against them. The Department of Education said it could not talk about the issues related to the legal proceedings.

Children join a protest calling for a government inquiry into Gloriavale
(RNZ Photo Nathan McKinnon- Courtesy Newsroom)

Investigations are ongoing

But the Labour Inspectorate and Internal Affairs did confirm there were ongoing investigations into Gloriavale and the Christian Community Trust – the charitable trust controlling the community’s finances.

There were also fiery scenes in the House of Representatives this afternoon as Labour MPs questioned Coalition Minister Brooke van Velden on why a task force established under the previous government to ensure the rights of Gloriavale’s members was discontinued by her in December.

“I do not believe that added bureaucracy is necessary to ensure the safety of children within Gloriavale,” she said, to howls of outrage from the opposition benches.

“There are specific areas of law where every one of my Cabinet colleagues who has an area of specific interest for Gloriavale and the rights of children will be working to uphold that within their own agencies,” van Velden said.

Tim Brown is a Senior Reporter at Radio New Zealand based in Dunedin, covering the South Island. The above Report and pictures have been published under a special agreement with

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