HURRICANE — Children from the two cities operated by the Fundamental Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have ordered school be canceled while children labor in Southern Utah pecan groves.
The event, which neighbors told CNN is an annual occurrence, closes schools for one to two weeks while children and their mothers harvest pecans. Hundreds of children, many too young to be in school, work on the pecan farm owned by a Nevada businessman.
Child labor is not a new issue in the church's history. KSL reported on allegations of child labor in relation to the FLDS church in 2008. At that time, we found that it's rarely prosecuted.
Washington County authorities said they were unaware of the reported situation.
The order to close schools and put children to work comes directly from FLDS Church leader Warren Jeffs, who is serving life in prison for sexually assaulting two underage girls he took as bride in "spiritual marriages."
When a CNN vehicle pulled up to the ranch near the pecan groves earlier this week, the children and their mothers ran toward the opposite end of the grove. A neighbor to the grove, a hog farmer named Dorothy Laub, says the reaction is common: when they are not ignoring her and her two children near the fence, the FLDS children run away.
"The paranoia among FLDS leaders is intense," said CNN reporter Gary Tuchman "And that's because they know we're here to ask questions. Like ‘why is it OK to pull all their children out of school so they can toil as free laborers?' and, ‘what's happening with all the money they're making?' "
Law enforcement officials believe all the money made from the pecan harvest goes directly to Warren Jeffs and the FLDS Church.
Attempts by CNN to reach Colorado City officials, talk to security guards on the groves or contact the businessman who owns the grove were unsuccessful.
Contributing: Anne Forester