Posts Tagged ‘orphanage fire in Guatemala’

New Yorker article on the Fire

Thursday, March 23rd, 2017

Must read. Francisco Goldman’s article in The New Yorker magazine: “The Story Behind the Fire That Killed Forty Teenage Girls in a Guatemalan Children’s Home.” Francisco Goldman, born in Massachusetts to a Guatemalan mother, is the author of the novel, The Long Night of White Chickens and the nonfiction account of the assassination of Guatemalan Catholic Bishop Juan Gerardi, The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed the Bishop?

It feels as if time in Guatemala may now be measured “before the fire” and “after.”


Forty girls

Thursday, March 16th, 2017

Forty girls died in the fire at the children’s home in Guatemala. Terrible things happen everywhere, but Guatemala is where our children were born, where our hearts are. The tragedy feels especially close. This NY Times article by Elizabeth Malkin is breathtaking in its description of life for the survivors, many with disabilities and placed in facilities ill-equipped to help them.

An excerpt:

The fire broke out after a group of residents who had escaped from the home were rounded up by the police and brought back. Investigators have said that they believe the girls who died were locked in a small room as punishment. [Executive Director of Disability Rights International Eric] Rosenthal said that boys interviewed at the home last week said that they had been part of the breakout and that afterward they had been locked up and beaten…

Last year, the ombudsman called on the government to shut down the center, where 700 young people were housed, and asked the attorney general to investigate claims that some residents had been sexually abused and forced into prostitution in Guatemala City.

They said they found alarming evidence of the severe neglect resulting from Guatemala’s policy of institutionalization, a policy that has been repeatedly criticized by advocacy groups.

According to the report, the most disabled children were dropped off … and “left to spend their days lying on mats, tied to metal doors, or belted into wheelchairs…  “Children are self-abusive, hitting themselves, poking themselves in the eyes, or regurgitating stomach fluids.” … [T]eachers reported that [survivors of the fire] were “shouting, screaming and hitting each other,” and with few resources and no medical records, they had little choice but to medicate them.

The rest of the residents … have been moved to other facilities across the country. Health Ministry officials told Disability Rights International that seven of the girls were pregnant.

Many of the children at the home were abandoned; others had been placed there by their families. Last year, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities called on Guatemala to end the institutionalization of children.

But without any support from the government, families often have no choice. “It’s absolutely a question of political will,” Mr. Rosenthal said. “It never occurs to them that kids should be with their families.”


Unicef responds to the fire

Friday, March 10th, 2017

Yesterday Unicef issued a statement on children in care in Guatemala that included these lines: “[S]ending children to institutions should always be the last option, a temporary measure and always for the shortest possible time. Children have the right to grow up in a family and to have the support of the State so that families can fulfill their responsibilities. The confinement of children and adolescents for their “protection” is inadmissible.”

A few thoughts:

“The right to grow up in a family.” That’s what we in the adoption community have said for the past nine years, since Guatemala was found to be non-compliant with the Hague and inter-country adoption shut down in December 2007.

“Sending children to institutions should be the last option.” But for children without support or in dangerous situations in Guatemala, life in an institution is the first and only option. There is no other option.

The belief was held that when adoptions to the US shut down, families in Guatemala would step forward to adopt Guatemalan children. This has not happened and numbers prove this has not happened.

Finally, “Children have the right…to have the support of the State so that families can fulfill their responsibilities.” There is no government safety net in Guatemala. There is no WIC, no Medicare, no Social Security, no Section 8 housing. Parents don’t send their children to school because they can’t afford shoes or books. Gangs recruit boys and girls at a tender age. Where is the leadership in Guatemala? Where is the compassion for its most vulnerable citizens? Government support for families in Guatemala is non-existent.

Unicef, I agree 100% that inter-country adoption in Guatemala needed to be reformed. But you helped summarily end a program with no Plan B in place. And now we witness the tragic aftermath.