SAN ANTONIO, Texas — When Texas child welfare authorities released statistics showing that nearly 60 percent of the teen girls taken from a polygamist sect's ranch were pregnant or had children, they seemed to prove what had been alleged all along: The sect commonly pushed girls into marriage and sex.
But in the past week, the state has twice been forced to admit that "girls" who gave birth while in state custody are actually adults. One was 22 and says that she showed state officials a Utah birth certificate shortly after she and more than 400 minors were seized from the west Texas ranch in an April raid.
The state has in custody two dozen other young mothers and others whose ages are in dispute.
If most of them also turn out to be adults, it would be a severe blow to the state's claim of widespread sexual abuse.
It also would mean the number of actual 14- to 17-year-old girls with children could drop to as low as five or six. That would amount to about one-fifth of the girls that age found at the ranch — substantially higher than the average rate of teen pregnancies in Texas, but a far cry from 60 percent.
"There's no reluctance on our part to go ahead and take appropriate action if and when we can determine these are adults," said Patrick Crimmins, a spokesman for Child Protective Services. "We are working as quickly as possible to sort this out and realize the urgency."
All 463 of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints children removed from the Yearning for Zion Ranch have been in state custody for six weeks and are scattered in foster care facilities around the state.