World must wake up to dangers of orphanage care after deadly Guatemalan institution fire

We’re renewing our call on governments to commit to a world without orphanages, after fire kills 35 girls at a Guatemalan institution for teenagers this week.

Deadly fire at Guatemalan orphanage

Wednesday’s blaze at the government-run Hogar Seguro Virgen de Asuncion institution in San Jose Pinula, is reported to have started after young residents rioted, in an attempt to escape the overcrowded conditions.

The latest reports say that 35 girls died in the fire and a further 23 children remain in hospital.

There have been widespread allegations of abuse and neglect at the facility, near Guatemala City.

The institution has an official capacity of 500, but as many as 900 children were believed to be living there at the time of the fire.

Latin American orphanages

Experts estimate 240,000 children are living in orphanages and other insititutions across Latin America and the Caribbean. Worldwide, the number is estimated to be more than 8 million. About 80 per cent of these children have living parents who, with the right support, could provide a safe and loving home for their children.

Alongside its partners in Latin America and the Caribbean, we’re calling for the urgent reform of child protection systems across the region.

“The fire at the Virgen de Asuncion institution is an appalling event and we extend our deepest sympathies to the families and friends of the victims. When large numbers of children are warehoused in orphanages, they are put at a higher risk of abuse and neglect. This was a wholly avoidable tragedy.”.

Victoria Martin, Hope and Homes for Children’s Regional Advisor for Latin America and the Caribbean

Many orphanages across Latin America are run as businesses, where children are used as commodities. The more children are confined to an orphanage, the more money the orphanage owners receive from the state and private donors. Donating to orphanages, and volunteering in them, can perpetuate these immoral businesses.

Victoria added: “Orphanages are never a solution and evidence proves that children are always better off in loving, stable families.

“Orphanage-care is dangerous and the world must wake up to this.

Governments must direct funding away from orphanage-care, and towards supporting families to stay together.

There can be no more excuses.

To add your voice to the global movement to end orphanage-care, please share this news story or the statement issued by UNICEF.

This article was originally published in 2017, in the wake of the tragedy.  Read our updated blog post Reflections on Guatemala for a fuller account of how we can better safeguard our most vulnerable children.