The dilemma for mothers at Gloriavale has been described at the Employment Court in Christchurch.
Former member Virginia Courage is one of six women arguing the West Coast commune should have treated them as employees rather than volunteers.
She said her daughter “was treated horribly, she was the beating stick of every situation”.
After years of struggling, she said her 17-year-old was at breaking point and it was agreed she’d go to stay with her uncle on the outside.
But the leadership stepped in and sent her to grandparents in Australia.
“All of a sudden it changed from having our daughter go somewhere close for a few weeks … to midnight that night her father was driving her off to Christchurch with a fare to Australia,” said Courage.
The court heard parents had no rights at Gloriavale, they were made to prioritise work and forced to leave their sick children with others.
Courage said she would hear her child “screaming from where I was working in the kitchen and I had run across to find out what the problem was. I found no one at home with my 13 month old kid.”
Children from Gloriavale have been in court this week but there are claims that babies aren’t normally allowed to leave the commune.
“In the days before a planned trip you would have to find someone to look after your baby and breast feed your baby for you while you were away.
“Often the baby would have a miserable day because they wouldn’t want to feed off another woman,” said Courage.
The month long hearing will decide whether women at Gloriavale are employees or volunteers.
After seeing the commune’s kitchen and laundry, the director of a boarding school for secondary students said the women’s work was not domestic but commercial.
“To day that Gloriavale is a Christian community is wrong. It is a cheap labour camp,” said Courage.
The hearing is continuing.