Nearly two-thirds of the teenage girls removed from a polygamist sect earlier this month are either pregnant or have already given birth, officials said yesterday.
Of the 53 girls, aged 14 to 17, taken from the Yearning for Zion ranch in the remote west Texas town of Eldorado, 31 were either mothers or mothers-to-be. One was in labour at a hospital in the central Texas town of San Marcos last night.
All 463 children at the sect were taken into care after allegations of sexual abuse prompted officials to raid the ranch almost four weeks ago. The children have now been placed in foster homes across Texas.
Darrell Azar, of the Texas Child Protective Services, said the high rate of teen pregnancy more than justified the state intervention, which has caused consternation among members of the polygamist sect - the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS). "It shows you a pretty distinct pattern - that it was pretty pervasive," Mr Azar added.
Individual court hearings are to take place for all the children before 5 June to help determine whether they stay in care or are returned to their parents.
Civil liberties groups and lawyers for the children have criticised the state for moving all the children, from infants to teenagers, when only the teenage girls are alleged to have been sexually abused.
No one has been charged since the raid, which followed a series of calls to an abuse hotline, purportedly from a 16-year-old girl who said she had been beaten and raped by her 50-year-old husband. The girl has not been found, prompting suspicion the call may have been a hoax.
The FLDS moved to Texas under a veil of high secrecy just four years ago, after encountering mounting legal problems in their main north American base on the border of Utah and Arizona.
Their spiritual leader, a man called Warren Jeffs, has been convicted on polygamy-related criminal charges in Utah and awaits further trial in Arizona.