Thursday, May 1, 2008


More than half of teens from sect have been pregnant
31 of 53 girls are expectant or current mothers, officials report

Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle

Thirty-one of the 53 girls ages 14 through 17 are either mothers or expectant mothers, said Stephanie Goodman, a spokeswoman for the state's Health and Human Services Commission.

A handful of the girls are both, said Darrell Azar, a spokesman for the Department of Family and Protective Services, which has custody of all 463 children taken several weeks ago from their parents, members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a breakaway Mormon sect.

There also is one pregnant 13-year-old, "but most are in the 15 and 16 range at the time they conceived," Azar said. "Some teens have multiple children.

"It shows you a pretty distinct pattern, that it was pretty pervasive," he said.

The state's count of the teenagers who either are pregnant or are mothers already has soared in recent days, as 26 girls who initially claimed to be adults have told officials they are, in fact, minors.

State officials said they believe the teens who are pregnant or have children were forced into "spiritual" marriages with older men who were already married. The state of Texas does not recognize spiritual marriages. While state law allows 16-year-olds to wed with parental consent, it bars adults in most cases from having sexwith anyone under age 17. Bigamy also is illegal.

Meanwhile, child welfare officials said nine of the 463 children in their care were hospitalized in recent days, and six remained hospitalized Monday. Azar said he did not know the children's ailments or conditions but did not believe anyone had a life-threatening ailment.

Of the 463 children, 250 are girls and 213 are boys, officials said Monday.

On Friday, the last of the children who remained at the mass shelter in San Angelo were loaded onto buses and sent to group homes and shelters throughout the state.

Child welfare authorities said they now hope to break "the code of silence" that has prevented them from learning much about the children's life on the Yearning for Zion Ranch outside Eldorado.

On Monday, state officials sought to manage continuing complaints by some of the attorneys appointed to represent the children who say the transition to foster care has been chaotic.

Attorney complaints
Guy Choate, a Texas State Bar official and spokesman for the children's attorneys, said several lawyers have no idea where their clients were placed.

"Some children we can't find," Choate said. "We know the children are in custody, being taken care of by somebody, somewhere, but that's hardly acceptable. ... We're dealing with living, breathing human beings. Perfect is just about the only acceptable outcome."

Azar insisted that no child has ever been missing, though attempts to relay each child's whereabouts have sometimes been unsuccessful.

He said each child has been appointed a caseworker who will handle only FLDS work and who will have no more than 15 of those cases.

Meanwhile, the state's 3rd Court of Appeals has refused to immediately intervene in the custody dispute involving the children.

The court cited "insufficient information" to warrant granting emergency relief to attorneys representing 48 mothers who are FLDS followers.

A state judge in San Angelo this month ordered the children be placed in state custody because of allegations that the sect to which they belonged believed in marrying underage girls to older men.

Robert Doggett, a staff attorney with Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid, which represents some of the sect's mothers, said the court denied his motion for emergency relief late Friday after the children had been placed on buses and sent to foster placements around the state.

By then, he said, "the issue was moot."

The appeals court's order also cancels a hearing on the custody issue that had been scheduled for today.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Terri Langford reported from Houston.

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