Thirty-six Girls Burnt to Death in Foster Group Home in Guatemala

While the world celebrated the International Women’s Day, a date devoted to the fight and defense of women’s rights and freedom, 36 underage girls lost their lives in a fire within the foster care group home Hogar Seguro Virgen de la Asunción. Said group home was already under the public spotlight after several complaints of rape and sexual violence against the minors who lived there were filed in recent years.

Today, Guatemala needs justice. The 36 girls who died last Tuesday had built a barricade around themselves within the state group home to protest over the threat against their lives. They claimed that workers and authorities of the group home repeatedly raped them, and that they were beaten, malnourished and forced to walk the streets to be sexually exploited, along with other underage boys.

The group home of the tragedy is located up the side of a mountain, less than four miles away from one of the most exclusive residential neighborhoods in Guatemala, sited in the San José Pinula County. During the last year, over a hundred minors escaped from this place, which was supposed to provide emotional support and basic care for them but, apparently, could not control the situation.

The lack of governmental intervention is painfully clear, as it is the wrongdoing of the group home’s workers who not only did they fail to do their jobs, but also allowed the violation of the minors’ human rights and wishes, ruining their lives forever. They did not hesitate to harm the children, and no authority stepped up to stop them. No one cared, and the results are 36 dead girls, 60 minors on the run and dozens of wounded people.

The first official reports stated that the tragedy started when the girls set fire to their mattresses and promptly lost control of it, as the fire closed down on them. However, investigators are still working on the details. In their statements, several neighbors and other minors have contradicted the official version of the facts given by the government and the group home’s authorities.

After getting out of the home, 16-year-old Daniel told the press and the people outside that the girls had been locked in after 40 kids tried to escape. The boy affirmed that nobody helped the girls get out of the burning building, and that the authorities did not react in time. “They just stood there, unmoving. We knew the girls, we wanted to help but they wouldn’t let us.”

Similar statements by neighbors pile up; one of them claimed that “the girls were rebelling. Anyone living nearby knows this place was hell on Earth.”

Meanwhile, the government has not pressed specific charges against anyone. It denies any kind of negligence and considers that the reason behind these girls’ actions was not a valid one: the official story tells that the girls did not like the food. “We want the investigation to carry on as it normally would, but we see no direct responsible.”

What do these statements tell us about the role played by the State? The Morales administration will not formally accuse anyone, not even in the wake of such a tragedy; the deceased girls will be considered guilty of building a barricade and tying their hair with sharp, dangerous elements, and the real culprits will hide behind accusations against the judges for mixing orphan kids with criminal kids.

Amid the horror, policemen, firefighters and the Red Cross worked non-stop to rescue the bodies as well as the wounded, while relatives and neighbors waited hour after hour for their children, ignoring whether they were dead or alive.

The foster group home will stay shut down and an investigation is going to be performed. All surviving children will move to other foster care institutions.

Such tragedy inevitably makes us question everybody’s role: as adults, as citizens, as voters. What are international institutions doing about this? Children’s freedom, rights and obligations are being constantly violated, unstoppably. Above everything else, what is the government doing as such? Is it even paying attention? Or is every single officer merely taking advantage of the power while they hold it?

Since yesterday, Guatemala cries for their lost girls. So do we. How should we carry on after the horror? How can we stop a corrupt system? We must not look away from this issue. Today, it’s Guatemala. Tomorrow, it could be us.