Latin America & Caribbean

Guatemala: Officials and police charged over girls shelter blaze

Family members react as they wait for news of their loved ones after a fire broke out at the Virgen de Asuncion home in San Jose Pinula on the outskirts of Guatemala City, March 8, 2017 Image copyright Ronald Grant
Image caption All the victims were women aged between 14 and 17

A judge in Guatemala has charged five more people over the deaths of 41 teenage girls in the fire at a government-run shelter in March.

The five include two police officers and three government officials who were arrested earlier this month

They are facing various charges, including manslaughter and negligence.

Prosecutors say the fire at the Virgen de la Asunción shelter began when one of the girls set fire to a mattress after a riot.

They had been locked in a room after trying to escape and protesting against overcrowding and alleged sexual abuse by staff.

Reports say the capacity of the home in San José Pinula is 400. But that many more children were living there at the time.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The facility resembles a prison more than a shelter with barbed wire fences and high walls

The officials charged are senior members of social and child protection agencies. Two - Brenda Chaman Pacay and Harold Augusto Flores - are accused of manslaughter, and a third - Gloria Patricia Castro Gutiérrez - of negligence.

The police officers - Luis Armando Pérez and Lucinda Marroquín - face abuse charges.

The former director of the shelter, the former minister of social welfare and his deputy were charged in April.

They were sacked by President Jimmy Morales after the fire on 8 March.

The tragedy has put a spotlight on failings in Guatemala's child protection services.

Months before the tragedy, prosecutors had recommended that the shelter, near Guatemala City, should be closed over allegations of abuse.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Thousands called for justice and the president's resignation in the weeks following the fire

Mr Morales also called for the shelter's closure, but many Guatemalans have called for his resignation.

The shelter takes in children up to the age of 18 who have suffered abuse or have been abandoned.

Local media said the shelter was also functioning as a juvenile detention centre, to which judges were sending adolescents involved in criminal cases.

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