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Who are Lost Boys?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 06, 2024
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Lost boys are boys and young men who are exiled from communities which practice polygamy. These are forced out of their communities due to concerns about a shortage of brides; in a community where people regularly take multiple wives, clearly a large number of women is needed to satisfy the need for brides. One way to ensure that there are enough women in the community to go around is to exile young men, typically using relatively mild infractions of community rules as an excuse for exile.

The plight of lost boys was brought to the attention of the general public in 2005, when numerous boys exiled from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) were profiled in the media. Some of these boys had been exiled as young as 13, and many were simply told to leave, or dumped by the side of the road. Older men who had left the Mormon Church began to reach out to the lost boys, attempting to help them make their way in the world, and this attracted media attention.

For the lost boys, their situation is disorienting and quite depressing. Many people who are raised in the FLDS are brought up on compounds, and taught that they should regard the outside world with distrust. They may be provided with minimal education and skills, and they are repeatedly told that they will not go to heaven if they leave the FLDS, and if they fail to take at least three brides.

When lost boys are thrust into the outside world, they must contend with the trauma of leaving their families forever, while also coming to grips with the idea that they have been summarily chucked out of the religion into which they were raised. Since many lack the basic skills needed for survival, they struggle to make a living, Some men expelled from Mormon sects later go on to be activists, speaking out against conditions in fundamentalist sects and supporting others who wish to leave the church, or who are exiled from it.

In some cases, lost boys have complained to law enforcement about conditions inside fundamentalist compounds, citing child abuse and other breaches of the law. Reports of illegal situations have sometimes sparked law enforcement investigations or raids, causing relations between FLDS groups and the outside world to deteriorate even more. Essentially, a sort of vicious cycle is created in which law enforcement raids are used to promote the idea that the outside world is dangerous and untrustworthy.

PublicPeople is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PublicPeople researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By KaBoom — On Feb 20, 2012

I'm glad there are groups that reach out to these lost boys. I can't imagine trying to make my way in the world at the age of 13 or 14, especially without having any basic skills.

It's obviously scarier for these young boys than other homeless teens. As the article said, many of them have been raised to consider the outside world "evil." Then all of a sudden they have no other option but to live there? I can imagine going through something like this could leave lasting psychological scars on anyone.

By Monika — On Feb 20, 2012

@JessicaLynn - I bet a lot of people are familiar with the term "lost boys" from watching Big Love when it was on. I know I didn't really know anything about the FLDS or lost boys before I saw the show.

The thing is, according to some of the stuff I've read, the fictionalized account of the FLDS that was shown on Big Love isn't very far from the truth. Obviously lost boys are real, which is so heartbreaking.

I really think that it should be a wakeup call for these communities when their "prophet" orders them to dump one of their own on the side of the street like trash. No religion should be encouraging that kind of action.

By JessicaLynn — On Feb 19, 2012

I watched the HBO series Big Love when it was on television. For those who don't know, Big Love was a fictional series about a polygamous family in Utah. However, instead of living on a compound, they lived in the mainstream world.

The husband of the family, Bill, had grown up on a compound, however, and was a "lost boy." I believe his father dropped him off in a city when he was around 14 and he had to survive on his own after that. This experience really shaped Bill's personality throughout the run of the show.

By SteamLouis — On Feb 19, 2012

@anamur-- I know that there is one nonprofit organization called "Diversity" that has been pretty active. They work with FLDS lost boys to help and mentor them so that they can take care of themselves and fit in with mainstream society.

I read the "Lost Boys" book and what is most shocking to me about this whole situation is that the families of these boys are absolutely fine with these excommunications, or at least appear to be so. Everyone who lives under the FLDS community has to follow all of the orders by the FLDS prophet and he is the one who gives out orders about who will be excommunicated.

And the reason that boys are being kicked out rather than older men is because older men want to take younger women and girls as their second and third wives. So the boys are their biggest competition.

By turquoise — On Feb 18, 2012

"The lost boys" is also the name given to boys who are orphaned in Sudan due to the civil war there. In fact there was a great documentary about it on PBS and I remember being very moved by it.

Most of the Sudanese lost boys lost their entire families during the fighting in Sudan and fled to various refugee camps on borders with neighboring countries. Thousands of them are still there or have made their way to neighboring countries for work and survival.

Some of them though have been sponsored by various organizations and have been brought to the US. The documentary showed a group of boys who came to the US and were placed in an apartment. The lady which helped them settle was showing them how to use all the appliances because it was the first time that they had access to things like stoves and washing machines.

Has anyone else seen that documentary?

By serenesurface — On Feb 18, 2012

Wow, I had never heard about lost boys before but what a terrible situation! It sounds like some of these fundamentalist religious groups contradict their own teachings and beliefs with this practice of exiling boys.

Like the FLDS example, first people are taught that the outside world is dangerous and it is forbidden. At the same time, they push out members of their own community into the same environment which they portrayed as scary and untrustworthy. And that too for their own selfish reasons!

I can't even imagine what a young boy would feel in that situation. It must be like coming face to face with your biggest fear in life. I really feel for these boys.

How many activist groups are there who are trying to protect the rights of these boys? Is there a major NGO or group that a lost boy can contact immediately for help?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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