FLDS Sect Teen Gives Birth While in Custody

By: AP
By: AP

SAN MARCOS, Texas (AP) -- One of hundreds of young polygamist-sect members taken into custody by the state was giving birth Tuesday while child welfare officials and state troopers stood watch outside the maternity ward.

The teenager was admitted to the Central Texas Medical Center and was in labor, said Rod Parker, a spokesman for the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He contends she is 18, but state officials have the girl on a list of minors taken into state custody.

State officials raided the FLDS's Yearning For Zion Ranch in Eldorado on April 3. They took custody of 463 children on the belief that the sect's practice of underage and polygamous spiritual marriages endangered the children. The children are now scattered in foster-care facilities around the state.

CPS spokesman Darrell Azar said he was unaware that an FLDS teen had gone into labor, but added that typically, a child born to a ward of the state becomes a ward of the state itself.

A woman at the hospital who said she was the girl's attorney declined to comment.

On Monday, CPS announced that almost 60 percent of the underage girls living on the Eldorado ranch either have children or are pregnant.

Of the 53 girls between the ages of 14 and 17 who are in state custody, 31 either have given birth or are expecting, Azar said.

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

Under Texas law, children under the age of 17 generally cannot consent to sex with an adult. A girl can get married with parental permission at 16, but none of these girls is believed to have a legal marriage under state law.

Church officials have denied that any children were abused at ranch and say the state's actions are a form of religious persecution.

Parker has disputed the CPS count of teen mothers. He said that from talking to ranch residents, he believes at least 17 of those labeled as minors by child welfare authorities are actually adults.

Agency officials have called into question claims of adulthood among the girls since the raid and have in some cases disputed documentation provided, saying the girls look younger than 18. Because many FLDS members share similar names and have complicated family relationships, identifying all of the children taken into custody has been a challenge.

"I do have serious questions about how they are determining age in there," said Parker, who is trying to get a better count from FLDS families.

He said the sect is at a disadvantage in proving names and ages because law enforcement confiscated every document that might show family relationships.

The latest information from CPS comes with "absolutely nothing to back it up other than it's coming from them, and they think we should trust them," Parker said.

All the children are supposed to get individual hearings before June 5 to help determine if they'll stay in state custody or if their parents may be able to take steps to regain custody.

No one has been charged since the raid, which was prompted by a series of calls to a domestic abuse hot line, purportedly from a 16-year-old girl forced into a marriage recognized only by the sect with a man three times her age. That girl has not been found and authorities are investigating whether the call was a hoax.

Of the 463 children, 250 are girls and 213 are boys. Children 13 and younger are about evenly split - 197 girls and 196 boys - but there are only 17 boys aged 14 to 17 compared with the 53 girls in that age range.

The sect, which broke from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints more than a century ago, believes polygamy brings glorification in heaven. Its leader, Warren Jeffs, is revered as a prophet. Jeffs was convicted last year in Utah of forcing a 14-year-old girl into marriage with an older cousin.

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