Civil Liberties

Would You Believe Five Underage Mothers? How About Two?


In a column about the child custody case involving the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), I noted:

[Texas Child Protective Services] claimed 31 underage girls at the ranch were pregnant or mothers. It later conceded that at least 15 of them were in fact adults while a 14-year-old on the list was not pregnant and had no children. The Associated Press reported that "more mothers listed as underage are likely to be reclassified as adults."

After the column (which ran in the August/September issue of reason) went up on Friday, a couple of readers pointed out that the official tally of underage mothers has fallen to five, meaning the initial figure was off by a factor of at least six. According to a June 15 Salt Lake Tribune story, three of the remaining five girls "were 16 when they gave birth last year," "one girl was 17," and "the fifth girl, who turns 17 in August, is pregnant." Since the minimum age for marriage with parental consent in Texas is 16, in only two of these cases was there prima facie evidence of underage marriage, and even in those cases only because the state legislature raised the minimum marriage age from 14 in 2005 with the FLDS in mind. So based on two cases where where it looks like the law was broken, the state seized 468 FLDS children, including babies, toddlers, boys, and prepubescent girls as well as the teenaged girls who allegedly were at risk.

The egregiously erroneous information provided by CPS reinforces the wisdom of the Texas courts in concluding that the wholesale removal of these children was unwarranted. It also should encourage greater skepticism about self-serving claims by bureaucrats seeking to justify their actions, even— perhaps especially—when the targets of those actions are far outside the mainstream. When this story first broke back in April, how many people thought it was the weird, creepy polygamists who were basically telling the truth and the government-appointed child rescuers who were wildly misleading the public?