Data supports hard truth about brides in polygamous Bountiful

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It is no secret that there are child brides and teen mothers in the polygamous community of Bountiful, B.C., and that many of them are illegal immigrants from the United States, writes Daphne Bramham:

Now, there are hard numbers to support the anecdotal evidence.

The numbers come from the B.C. Vital Statistics Agency and were filed as an affidavit last week in B.C. Supreme Court, where Chief Justice Robert Bauman is hearing a constitutional reference case to determine whether Canada’s polygamy law is valid.

Some of the statistics are surprising; others a bit shocking. […]

The number of births alone is surprising — 833 born to 215 mothers in 13 years in a community whose population is commonly estimated at around 1,000.

And that number may still be low, since the agency only counted births associated with the 14 most common surnames in Bountiful. Not counted were babies with 11 other surnames listed on the registries of Bountiful’s two elementary schools.

The most disturbing fact is that 85 mothers — a third of the total — were 18 or younger. That’s seven times the provincial rate of teen moms. […]

And it’s no secret that in Bountiful (as in most polygamous societies), the powerful older men have the most wives and the most children. The statistics support that. […]

It also bears noting that the legal age of marriage in B.C. is 18. Not that it matters. As Chief Justice Robert Bauman has repeatedly been told, most fundamentalist Mormon marriages are “spiritual” or “celestial” unions arranged by the prophet or his designate.

As Bauman has also heard, women and girls are routinely moved between the fundamentalist Mormon communities for arranged marriages.

No wonder Bramham, author of The Secret Lives of Saints: Child Brides and Lost Boys in a Polygamous Mormon Sect, asks, “Did nobody think to ask for all of this birth data sooner? And, more importantly, why isn’t this information being used now to prosecute the men who sexually exploited and impregnated children?”

Daphne Bramham has been a columnist at the Vancouver Sun since 2000 and has won numerous awards for her writing, including a National Newspaper Award.

She was named Commentator of the Year by the Jack Webster Foundation in 2005 and was honoured by the non-profit group Beyond Borders for a series of columns on the polygamous community of Bountiful, B.C.

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This post was last updated: Nov. 22, 2013