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Page last updated at 04:34 GMT, Tuesday, 29 April 2008 05:34 UK

Texas sect girls 'mostly mothers'

File photograph of female members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Texas, 14 April, 2008
The sect says a man must have three wives to attain salvation

More than half of the teenage girls removed from a polygamist sect in Eldorado, Texas, are either mothers or currently pregnant, US officials say.

All 463 children on the Yearning For Zion Ranch were taken into care after allegations of sexual abuse prompted police to raid the ranch this month.

Officials from the sect deny that any children were abused at the ranch.

Authorities believe that of the 53 girls aged between 14 and 17, 29 are already mothers and two are pregnant.

"It shows you a pretty distinct pattern, that it was pretty pervasive," said Darrell Azar, a spokesman for the Texas Child Protective Services.

'Largest case'

Detectives raided the ranch after a 16-year-old girl called an abuse hotline saying she had been beaten and raped by her 50-year-old husband.

Church built at the FLDS's compound in Texas (2005)
The Yearning for Zion ranch belongs to a breakaway Mormon sect

As a result of the raid, all children on the ranch aged between six months and 17 years of age were placed in emergency state custody.

Texas law states that if sexual abuse is happening in a home and a parent does not put a stop to it, then the parent can lose custody of the child.

The Yearning for Zion ranch belongs to a breakaway Mormon sect called the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS).

Three wives

The sect is led by polygamist Warren Jeffs, who is currently in jail as an accomplice to rape after he forced a 14-year-old girl to marry her cousin.

The self-proclaimed prophet is currently awaiting trial in Arizona on charges of being an accomplice to four counts of incest and sexual conduct with a minor stemming from two arranged marriages.

The 10,000-strong sect, which dominates the towns of Colorado City in Arizona, and Hildale, Utah, split from the mainstream Mormon church more than a century ago.

Members believe a man must marry at least three wives in order to ascend to heaven.

Women are meanwhile taught that their path to heaven depends on being subservient to their husband.


SEE ALSO
More raids on Texas polygamy sect
06 Apr 08 |  Americas
US polygamy sect leader sentenced
20 Nov 07 |  Americas
US sect leader 'made girl marry'
14 Sep 07 |  Americas
Sex claims hit US polygamy sect
14 Jun 05 |  Americas

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