Civil Liberties

But Your Honor, I Swear I Thought She Was 15!


I came across this tidbit while reading about today's appeals court ruling condemning the wholesale seizure of children from the Yearning for Zion Ranch. Or perhaps I should say "children" (emphasis added):

At least half the mothers taken from a polygamist sect's ranch and put in child foster care have now been declared adults, significantly chipping at agency statistics that seemed to demonstrate the widespread sexual abuse of underage girls.

Attorneys for the state's Child Protective Services agency have been conceding, one by one, that many of the mothers authorities cited as evidence that the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints committed widespread sexual abuse of girls are actually adults. 

They had admitted by midday Thursday that 15 of the 31 mothers listed as underage are adults; one is actually 27. A few are as young as 18, but many are at least 20.

Another girl listed as an underage mother is 14, but her attorney said in court she is not pregnant and does not have a child.

Then, too, as the appeals court noted, "teenage pregnancy, by itself, is not a reason to remove children from their home and parents." Teenagers in Texas can marry at 16 with parental consent, and "there was no evidence regarding the marital status of these girls when they became pregnant or the circumstances under which they became pregnant."

It's also important to keep in mind that the 16 (or fewer) underage mothers represent a small percentage of the children seized by the state, who included infants and toddlers as well as boys of various ages. As the court found, there was no evidence whatsoever to indicate these kids—at least 97 percent of those seized—were being abused or in imminent danger.