On the anniversary of orphanage fire tragedy in Guatemala, we join calls to end the institutionalisation of children
On March 8th 2017, 41 teenage girls died in a fire at an over-crowded children’s institution in San José Pinula, Guatemala. 15 of the survivors were left with severe lasting physical and psychological injuries.
It has since emerged that the girls had been locked inside a small room at the Virgen de la Asunción Safe Home as punishment for organising a protest the day before against cramped conditions and abuse by staff.
The facility housed as many as 1,000 children in a building designed to hold no more than 500.
This terrible event made clear to Guatemala, to Latin America and to the world the dangers posed to children by protection systems that rely on institutions.
There are currently at least 240,000 children confined to orphanages and other residential facilities in Latin America and Caribbean.
Since the disaster, Hope and Homes for Children has been working with UNICEF to advise the Guatemalan Government on its response and ensure that that the tragedy marks the beginning of a fundamental change in the way the country cares for vulnerable children.
On Thursday 8th of March, one year after the tragedy, Hope and Homes for Children joined with children’s organisations across the region to honour the victims of the fire by calling for an end to the institutionalisation of children and for the urgent reform of child protection systems worldwide to ensure that the tragedy is never repeated.
On the same day, we co-hosted a webinar to assess the state of child protection in Guatemala today, to look at ways of strengthening existing positive initiatives and to ask what lessons have been learned by the international community in the wake of the Guatemala fire. Watch it here:
The webinar took place via the Center of Excellence for Children, established by Hope and Homes for Children and our partners, RELAF (Latin American Network of Foster Care) to strengthen the capacity for deinstitutionalization and the reform of child protection systems in the region. It was also live streamed at events in five countries (Guatemala, Mexico, Uruguay, Paraguay and Peru).
Speakers at the event included Victoria Olarte (née Martin), Regional Director Latin America and the Caribbean for Hope and Homes for Children, and Matilde Luna (Director, RELAF) alongside Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño, Rapporteur on the Rights of the Child and Commissioner at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), Luis Pedernera, Member on the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and María Cristina Perceval (Regional Director, UNICEF Latin America and Caribbean).
UNICEF, Better Care Network, REDLAMYC (Latin American and Caribbean Network for the defense of the rights of children and adolescents) and FICE (International Federation of Educative Communities) also supported the webinar.