[TRIGGER WARNING: FIRE, DEATH, CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE, ABLEISM]
A horrific tragedy has revealed equally horrific abuse in a facility in Guatemala where abused, abandoned, and disabled girls were kept. 43 girls are dead after the facility went up in flames two weeks ago. The cause of the fire was not immediately known, but it sounds like it could very well have been a desperate act of rebellion by one of the girls who was desperately trying to escape from a prison of abuse and neglect.
The 750 residents crammed into the aging structures were nearly all victims of abandonment and abuse and had been removed from families and guardians by the authorities for their own safety.
But they found little respite at the state home, and in some cases more of what they fled. Members of the staff sexually abused residents, prompting criminal cases and a series of complaints with the country’s human rights commission, which had requested a judicial order to close the facility down a month ago.
According to Feminist Culture, girls who tried to flee the facility to escape sexual and physical abuse were locked in a tiny room the day before the fire, and because they were still in there, they had no way to get out. Most of those girls died.
This tragedy exposes deep misogyny and ableism in the country. Girls would be sent there for mental illness and disabilities that families just didn't want to deal with, or because they wouldn't "follow orders," as one parent put it. LGBT+ girls were also sent there by homophobic families. Complaints about the facility's abuses have been public since 2013, but very little appears to have been done about it.
Now, according to Disability Rights International, these girls are still in danger of abuse and mistreatment due to the fact that the over 700 girls who survived need to be moved somewhere, and the facilities that exist in the country aren't prepared to handle them. At the same time, Guatemala's policy of institutionalizing "problem" children fuels abuse no matter where they go.
An organization called Orphan Outreach is collecting donations to help these girls, though it's important to remember that many are not orphans but have simply been abandoned by their parents or taken away from them due to abuse. You can also donate to Disability Rights International.
You can also help by spreading the word. I don't often call out nations that are dominated by people of color, being a white person, but we need to put international pressure on Guatemala to change their policies on how disabled, mentally ill, and abandoned children, particularly girls, are treated and protected.