HAVANA TIMES — The number of teenage girls who have died as a result of the fire which broke out on Wednesday at a government -run shelter in Guatemala, has risen to 34 while the country officially begins a three day national mourning period, DPA reported.
The country’s Roosevelt and San Juan de Dios hospitals have confirmed 15 deaths of minors as the result of severe burns after having been admitted on Wednesday. Six of them died at Roosevelt hospital and nine at San Juan de Dios.
Other victims remain on life support and are in critical condition, hospital authorities have stated.
During Thursday afternoon, protesters demanded justice with a sit-in in front of the Presidential House and they waved Guatemalan flags with black ribbons.
The Government ordered that flags on state institution buildings fly at half-mast in mourning.
In the last update about the situation of those young girls still at Roosevelt Hospital, it was reported that nine of them are still in critical condition, on life support and “can die at any moment.” There was no official update from the San Juan de Dios hospital; however, we know that there are at least seven minors in intensive care.
In the morning, protesters placed pieces of coal and toy dolls in front of the Presidential House’s main gate, in the capital’s historic center, as a sign of protest.
Today, in a speech which was given at an official event in Quetzaltenango, 210 kilometers to the west of the city, President Jimmy Morales said that the tragedy is “every Guatemalan’s responsibility”.
“I’m talking about the State: everyone. Every Guatemalan holds a part of the responsibility of what this country is, the republic which we have built,” he said referring to the insecurities that wide sectors of the population suffer because of social problems.
“It’s truly sad and unfortunate that dozens of children can die in a situation like the one that passed and this can can happen again anywhere where we, as the State, are not giving the attention they deserve,” he said.
In a summons that took place today in Congress with legislators from an opposition party, representatives from the Human Rights Ombudsman (PDG) claimed that the young girls had been locked into a classroom.
The fire took place at approximately 9:00 AM (15:00 GMT) on Wednesday, when the young girls allegedly set fire to the shelter’s mattresses, said the spokesman from the Secretary of Social Wellbeing (SBS), Carlos Roda. 19 of the young teenage girls died in situ. The other 15 died at hospitals between Wednesday and Thursday.
According to statements that have come to light, they were apparently locked up there after having been recaptured by the National Civil Police (PNC) on Tuesday, after a mass escape.
After the tragedy, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) called upon governments in the region today to stop institutionalizing minors.
“We repeat our petition to the Guatemalan Government and every government in the region, who has signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child, so as to establish the systematic institutionalization of children and teenagers,” the body highlighted in a statement.
It announced that approximately 240,000 boys, girls and teenagers still live in state-run institutions in Latin America and the Caribbean.