11 Oct 2008

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

The Huffington Post - October 9, 2008

by Andrea Moore-Emmett

Six months after Texas Child Protective Services (CPS) removed roughly 450 children from the polygamous Yearning for Zion Ranch near Eldorado, Texas, the state agency continues to grapple with the largest child-custody case in American history. By order of the Third District Court of Appeals, and then by the Texas Supreme Court, most of the children have been returned to their mothers -- but one, an alleged child bride of Warren Jeffs, remains in state custody, and CPS has requested the court return others back to protective services.

Clearly, the legal system was never structured to deal with such large numbers of children at one time, or to unravel the convoluted relationships of a polygamous cult such as that at Yearning for Zion, which is reportedly the headquarters of a breakaway Mormon group known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS). Still, the question must be asked: What is an agency, charged with the protection of children, to do when encountering the preponderance of evidence of abuse that was discovered at the YFZ compound? What do you do upon the discovery of "spiritual beds" where plural marriages to underage girls were consummated to older men? What do you make of the finding that 41 children had fractured bones or "historical injuries and fractures"? How do you sort out siblings from children who can't distinguish their birth mothers from their "other" mothers? What do you make of U.S.-born children who don't have the basics of an education? Or of children who have reportedly never seen a crayon?

In the midst of a highly charged process, much was and continues to be said about the violation of parental rights and religious rights. Noticeably absent from such accusations of rights violations, however, are concerns about basic human and civil rights of the children. Absent too is any context, including the dynamics of domestic abuse and of mind control.

As of September 23, ten male members of the FLDS have been indicted on felony charges of child sexual abuse after a grand jury heard more evidence based on documents seized in the raid. The grand jury will meet again in November to hear more as CPS continues to do its job slowly, on a case by case basis.

And back at the ranch, it's cult life as usual for these children, while Washington talks about a federal task force to investigate the numerous polygamous cults that dot the country. But that will be continued only after the elections. There are priorities, and children don't vote.

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