VANCOUVER — The polygamist colony of Bountiful, B.C., has a teen-pregnancy rate that is up to seven times higher than communities in the rest of B.C., information obtained by the Vancouver Sun revealed.
Documents from the B.C. Vital Statistics Agency — obtained under the Freedom of Information and Privacy Act — showed that between 1998 and 2004, 69 Bountiful girls 18 or younger had babies.
A third of those girls were impregnated by men 10 or more years older than them. Three-quarters of the men in the fundamentalist-Mormon sect who fathered children with teens 18 and younger were at least five years older.
The agency said the teen-pregnancy rate there is anywhere from double to seven times the provincial average.
The data was gathered in early 2005 for B.C. deputy health minister Penny Bellam after media reports about Bountiful that included allegations of sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of women and children.
Sexual exploitation is a Criminal Code offence. Any person in a position of trust or authority commits the offence if he or she, for sexual purposes, touches a young person 18 or younger. It’s punishable by up to five years in prison.
Some of the plural wives in Bountiful have said most women have eight or nine children, while the fertility rate for the average B.C. woman is 1.5 children.
After reviewing the data, B.C. provincial health officer Perry Kendall recommended only “watchful waiting.”
Health officials are aware of the high incidence of teen pregnancy, he said.
“To some degree local public health practitioners are caught in the dilemma of wanting to provide service to the community, which to an extent means not being hostile or questioning to the community values.
“They are aware of the allegations of sexual abuse and sexual exploitation that have been made, are not happy with the choice-limiting culture within which the Bountiful community raises its young women, are aware of their obligations to report if they become aware of documentable abuses, but feel that as long as the ‘higher authorities’ do not intervene on the evidence they have on polygamy, that there is little that can be done locally.”