More than one in 10 children born in the polygamous community of Bountiful, B.C., until recently has been born to a teenage mother, according to statistics filed with a B.C. court.
Contradictory accounts from academics, former residents and plural wives have painted a blurry picture of life inside the community in southeastern B.C. that is at the centre of a landmark court case.
After two months of testimony, the judge who will weigh in on whether Canada's ban on multiple marriage violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms has heard wildly divergent views on whether polygamy inherently leads to child brides, teenage pregnancies and low school enrolment.
But provincial government statistics suggest those trends are all present in Bountiful, a community of about 1,000 residents who follow the teachings of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or FLDS. Unlike the Mormon church, which renounced polygamy more than a century ago, the FLDS still practises multiple marriage.
Bruce Klette of the province's Vital Statistics Agency examined birth records from Bountiful children between 1986 and 2009 and compared them to statistics from the entire province.
“Specific statistical anomalies can be seen in these data,” Mr. Klette wrote in an affidavit filed with the court.
He identified 833 births to 215 mothers and 142 fathers.
Slightly more than 10 per cent of those children – a total of 85 – were born to girls aged 18 or under, compared to the provincial figure of 2.7 per cent. More than a quarter of the community's teen moms had at least two children before they turned 19.
The ages of mothers and fathers were, on average, eight years apart, compared to 4.6 years for the entire province.
The community's 142 fathers had an average of 5.7 children each, and 27 of them sired eight or more.
And about 45 per cent of mothers were born outside of Canada – most in Utah – compared with 30 per cent of foreign mothers for the province as a whole.
The provincial and federal governments have alleged young girls are trafficked between Bountiful and polygamous communities in the U.S. to marry.
Mr. Klette's figures don't include marriage statistics, but the province has argued that, because the FLDS strictly prohibits premarital sex, the court should assume each teenage mother is also a teenage wife.
The FLDS announced in 2008 that it would no longer sanction teenage marriage, and Mr. Klette's research found no teen births in 2008 or 2009.
Critics of polygamy have also alleged children in such communities – and Bountiful in particular – don't have sufficient access to education and aren't encouraged to finish high school.
There are two schools in the community, each run by one of two divided factions within Bountiful. Children connected to the U.S.-based FLDS attend Bountiful Elementary-Secondary School, and those who follow Winston Blackmore's breakaway group attend Mormon Hills School. Each school receives government funding.
Three women from the community testified anonymously earlier this week, and each said she graduated from Bountiful Elementary-Secondary and subsequently attended college or university to study education, accounting or midwifery.
However, the province's head inspector for independent schools, Edward Vanderboom, wrote in an affidavit that the school hasn't been certified to grant official high school diplomas since 1994. Mormon Hills was recently certified to issue diplomas beginning this school year.
Mr. Vanderboom found enrolment in higher grades has been steadily declining at both schools.
At Bountiful Elementary-Secondary, there have been a total of 59 students in Grade 10 classes since the 2003-2004 school year, but only 11 in Grade 12.
There has been a similar trend at Mormon Hills. Since the 2003-2004 school year, 44 students have been enrolled in a Grade 10 class, while only eight have attended Grade 12.
And since 2003, only 25 students from the two schools have attained either a graduation certificate or the adult equivalent by upgrading their classes elsewhere.
Bountiful Elementary-Secondary applied in 2007 to issue high school diplomas, but was denied after inspectors identified several problems with the school's curriculum.
“It would not be correct for BESS to assert that students 'graduate' from BESS if that term is meant to imply that students meet educational requirements set by the minister for graduation,” wrote Mr. Vanderboom. “In fact, its Grade 11-12 educational program was found in 2007 to not meet the requirements.”
A 2007 review included with Mr. Vanderboom's affidavit says the school's course outlines weren't available, making it impossible to determine whether the school was meeting provincial standards.
The school's religion courses for Grades 10-12 were too similar to grant students separate high school credits for each year, and several elective courses, such as forestry, didn't meet the required number of teaching hours, the report says.
The school hasn't reapplied since.
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