(dpa) - A Texas court on Friday
temporarily took custody of 416 children removed from a remote compound in
where an obscure religious sect practiced polygamy, the Fort-Worth Star
Telegram newspaper reported online.
Texas Child Protective Services Division had argued that a "pervasive pattern" of sexual abuse and forced marriage involving underaged girls justified its custody request.
The agency removed the children earlier this month from the Yearning For Zion Ranch, in Schleicher County in West Texas, about 300 kilometres north-west of San Antonio. The compound is populated by members of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints, a renegade branch of the Mormon Church, which has banned polygamy for more than a century.
More than 20 girls among those taken from the compound were pregnant or had young children, the newspaper quoted an agency investigator as saying.
In moving forward with its case, the state planned to do DNA testing to determine which children belonged to which mothers, CNN reported.
An investigation into the compound was launched in late March, when a 16-year-old girl allegedly told a domestic violence hotline that she was forced to marry a middle-aged man, who had beaten and raped her repeatedly over more than a year.
But officials have been unable to locate the girl, and on Friday state police said they were investigating a Colorado woman not involved in the sect who may have made the phone call as a hoax.
FLDS members began settling the compound about four years ago, mostly moving from mountain states where the sect is based.
The group's leader and self-proclaimed prophet, Warren Jeffs, was convicted last year in Utah of being an accomplice to rape, and was sentenced to 10 years to life in prison. He coerced a 14-year-old girl in an FLDS community there to marry and have sex with her 19- year-old cousin.