Family Issues

Would You Believe Five Underage Mothers? How About Two?

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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?

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  1. Shouldn’t the law raising the legal age of marriage be overturned as religious harrassment, like the Hialeah Santeria case?


  2. 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?

    How many readers does Balko have?

  3. Would You Believe Five Underage Mothers? How About Two?

    How about one girl that looks slightly chubby in the midsection….god bless you Jacob and all who reference “Get Smart”

  4. Free Talk Live also called it as soon as it happened. Pretty much all the libertarian media did.

  5. I was one.

    Generally I start from the assumption that the government/police/CPS/etc are wrong at a minimum and maliciously so as the norm.

  6. 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.

    Sure it should. But I highly doubt it.

  7. 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?

    I think you need to remember your audience here, Jacob.

  8. If nothing else, this will teach young moms in Texas to always carry their birth certificates with them.

  9. As a resident of San Angelo, Texas, I have been fascinated to watch local public opinion swing substantially (if not quite 180 degrees) in this case.

    Initially, most people thought CPS had done what needed doing. Now, its hard to find anybody who thought what they did was justified, and many are willing to say it was way out of bounds.

  10. R C Dean: Does the district judge who rubber-stamped it all have a challenger for the election?

  11. To be truthful with you, I didn’t know what the hell was happening and tried to keep an open mind until the facts came out.

  12. To be truthful with you, I didn’t know what the hell was happening and tried to keep an open mind until the facts came out.

    same

  13. 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?

    I assumed it was the government who was lying to me.

  14. 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?

    I assumed it was the government who was lying to me.

    I assumed, and still assume, that both sides are telling a distorted version of the truth. Clearly the governments distortion was greater here and based on a lack of real information, but that doesn’t make the other side’s story any more true.

    The mistake the government made here was to go outside the long established protocols set up to prevent the kinds of errors they made. There is a reason case-by-case investigations with a presumption of innocence are the norm.

  15. Speaking of witch hunts. See this: http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_9857718

    Looks like the folks in Colorado are getting a lynch mob together.

  16. 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?

    I think you need to remember your audience here, Jacob.

    Better question would be “How many people (outside of Reason readers and the rest of the libertarian blogosphere) thought that?”

  17. “So based on two cases where where it looks like the law was broken, the state seized 468 FLDS children …”

    Actually, no. The kids were seized solely on the basis of a hoax phone call alleging that one girl had been abused. Later, the State tried to justify permanently severing the 400+ kids from their parents on the basis of two or five or whatever “underaged” pregnancies.

  18. I assumed, and still assume, that both sides are telling a distorted version of the truth. Clearly the governments distortion was greater here and based on a lack of real information, but that doesn’t make the other side’s story any more true.

    IMO, the really relevant difference between the two is that the government has a monopoly on force combined with a monopoly on justice, while a separatist cult has no such monopoly and does in general suffer the disapproval of a public that is perfectly willing to get its thugs to violate others’ rights.

    The fact that the right thing eventually happened in this particular case is less a confirmation that “the system works” than that lightning struck twice.

  19. “Actually, no. The kids were seized solely on the basis of a hoax phone call alleging that one girl had been abused.”-jed

    Nope, Jacob was right the first time. The kids were seized because of what CPS claimed they saw at the ranch. That CPS can kidnap kids this way is just so amazing to me. To watch cell phone video of CPS coming into a hospital room (in another Texas case) with the intention of grabbing up a newborn with nothing more than an unsigned paper is sickening. In my mind the right to bear arms should allow parents to shoot these people in defense of their families. Let them shoot the kidnappers, and if I’m on the jury, they’ll never be convicted.

  20. If you haven’t read this before, please read http://www.truthwillprevail.org/
    It’s articles have our view, (and some other interesting points made by others), on many things said in the media about us.

  21. Let them shoot the kidnappers, and if I’m on the jury, they’ll never be convicted.

    Let me beat the dead horse one more time and assure you that, in our monopoly justice syste,m you would never be on that jury.

  22. I didn’t know what the hell was happening and tried to keep an open mind until the facts came out.

    Where’s the fun in that?

  23. How many pregnant girls under the age of 16 would you find in a typical large (>2,000 students) Texas high school?

    How does that rate compare with the incredibly fucked up FLDS cult?

    Simple questions, no?

  24. You would find a higher rate of ongoing pregnancies at your average inner-city Houston, DFW, San Antonio, Austin, or El Paso middle school than among 14-16 year olds in the FLDS.

  25. Nigel Watt, I would assume so, but the numbers would sure be nice to bandy about.

  26. Texas has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the nation. The local Austin newspaper covered the abstinence-only education policy yesterday. It’s a wonder they weren’t more critical.

  27. Abdul | July 14, 2008, 12:09pm | #
    “If nothing else, this will teach young moms in Texas to always carry their birth certificates with them.”

    The FLDS moms did have birth certificates, but CPS pronounced them probable fakes. They also didn’t accept the drivers licenses. A 27 year old pregnant woman tried to use her Texas drivers license as proof she was an adult, but CPS said it was fake and declared her a minor. They wanted to keep her in custody long enough to take her baby away when it was born.

  28. If polygamy is involved, you can safely assume that the government is (a) crushing personal liberties, (b) operating from a coercive religious moral basis, (c) not paying any attention to the points made by the victims of their oppressive Christian witch-hunt.

    So yes, I assumed the polygamists were minding their own business, and that the state was being its usual moronic self.

    And I was exactly right.

  29. 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?

    A lot of us. A hell of a lot of us.

  30. This is not DIRECTLY relevant to Texas but what the hell -it concerns child abuse hysteria. If you Google “Geoffrey Harries” you will find the story of a Welsh policeman who was recently accused of possessing child pornography. He and his wife were driven from their home by a mob. He went to live with his mother and was shortly afterwards stabbed to death by a neighbour. AFTER his murder the police put security cameras on the mother’s house – so presumably they fear that the “concerned neighbours” will target her as well. (Some of them made it clear that they approved the killer’s acton.)

    This is the stiff upper lip British. Compared to them your Texas CPS are not too bad!

  31. I’m happy to say that I was one who called it state sanctioned kidnapping at the start.

    As to the Denver Post link, I can’t even finish reading it.

  32. “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?”

    Since you ask … .

    My April 15 blog post was entitled ” Were 401 children seized on a fake phone call?”

    On April 28th I pointed out that the authorities were refusing to accept birth certificates as evidence of age, hence that the claim that the “31 mothers or pregnant” were actually 17 or younger was dubious, and I discussed apparent internal inconsistencies in the claims being made.

    Interested readers will find the series of posts on the FLDS at:

    http://daviddfriedman.blogspot.com/search?q=FLDS

    Incidentally, it’s not clear that there are even five “mothers or pregnant under 18” left. I believe one of the five claims not to be a mother–indeed never to have had sex. I believe there was one girl who the authorities eventually conceded was not pregnant–I’m not sure if she was one of the five.

    “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.”

    I’m not sure how you get even two cases. A girl who gave birth last year at 16 could either:

    A. Have married, legally, at 16, given birth nine months later, still 16, or …

    B. Have married legally at 14 three years ago, before the age was raised.

  33. The proportion of boys to girls among the children seized is very interesting. Among the babies and toddlers, about the same number of boys as of girls, but as one moves up the age group, there are more and more girls per boy. What happened to all the missing boys? Of course, the sect needs a ratio of about 30 to 50 girls per boy by the time they reach puberty, so as to provide the males with a minimum of three wives each, some males having dozens of wives.

  34. The state of Texas did a lot wrong, certainly. But there is still the issue of all these “unwed mothers” collecting welfare. And the way this cult pushes its surplus boys out to live on the streets. They are creating lots of problems and expenses for the wider society, and somebody should find a legitimate way to put a stop to that.

  35. I did. I thought that these children were being removed just because CPS disagreed with their religous beliefs and that they were so old fashion. Said that on several blogs. But many conservative blogs avoided this issue until it looked so bad when the children were being removed from the statium and the FLDS women were able to speak out.

    CPS took the cell phones from the women. It was clear that CPS did not want another narrative.

  36. Vierotchka, the age statistics that were published in much of the media, were including the 31 “underage” moms as age 14-17, after correcting for their actual ages, the demographics even out.

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