Last Wednesday, March 8th, a fire broke out at the Virgen de la Asunción shelter in southern Guatemala, which resulted in 37 girls and teenagers killed and almost twenty hospitalized. According to early indications, they themselves ignited the fire to protest the human rights violations they were suffering.
This government-run children’s house, in the hands of the Social Welfare Secretariat of the Office of the President, is home to kids and teenagers and accepts abandoned, abused, and sexually exploited children as well as teenagers that have suffer from sexual and labor exploitation.
In the face of tragedy, the educational works of the Society of Jesus and other allied organizations representing thousands of Guatemalan girls, boys, adolescents and young people have issued a statement in which they express their sadness and indignation at the facts:
“1. We express our deep sympathy and solidarity with the families of the teenagers and young people who died in this unfortunate event and those affected who are in serious conditions in the national hospitals. We pray to God our Lord to give you comfort and strength.
2. We repudiate the unworthy conditions under which this unfortunate event occurred as a result of the omission, inefficiency and irresponsibility of the authorities of the institutions that have been incapable of guaranteeing the life and protection of children, teenagers and young people who are welcomed in the government-run center, violating their rights and damaging their dignity as human beings.
3. We call on the State of Guatemala that this fact does not go unpunished, we request the immediate dismissal and prosecution of the related authorities and the corresponding investigations to be taken so the criminal responsibility of those who are implicated in this fact that has left many Guatemalan families grief-stricken can be deduce. We also demand criminal prosecution to be carried out in cases of mistreatment and rape reported prior to this tragedy.
4. The State of Guatemala must be a guarantor of life, well being and protection of children, teenagers, youth and the family, so we call upon the authorities to ensure that public policies respect and are adapted to the legal national and international framework, in order to strengthen the human being and his rights.
5. We invite all civil society to be vigilant and committed to situations that threaten human life, and especially the most vulnerable.”
EJEGUA (Jesuit education in Guatemala) is formed by Fe y Alegría Educational Foundation, the Guatemalan Institute of Radiophonic Education -IGER-, Belize Bridge Education Project, Rafael Landívar University, Javier Lyceum, Santa Teresita College, San Francisco Javier-URL Network, Rodolfo Robles College .
Last Friday, March 10th, Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales appeared and said that the center will be temporarily closed down since experts say it is not suitable. A lot of children are being deinstitutionalized, a process that began last year when small children were sent back to their biological or foster homes to reduce overpopulation.
The household, in the hands of the Social Welfare Secretariat, was home to about 748 minors, although its capacity was just 400, and within it lived orphans, conflictive minors, children victims of violence, children with disabilities and others who supposedly had been interned for committing crimes.