A U.N. committee has expressed concern over human-trafficking allegations concerning a Guatemalan orphanage where 43 girls died in a fire last year, requesting legal reforms in order to better protect minors from abuse.
In its latest report, the U.N. Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women urges Guatemalan officials to follow up on the investigation into the March 2016 blaze and bring those responsible for the tragedy to court.
Since 2015, the Safe Home Virgen de la Asuncion has long been mired in controversy, with allegations of child abuse surfacing before the fire. Last December, the Unicef even recommended authorities to close down the facility because it was suspected of recruiting minors for forced labor.
More allegations emerged after the fire, with relatives complaining that the minors were not fed properly or were sexually abused.
In September this year, a court sentenced the orphanage's psychologist, Luis Alfredo Montenegro, to eight years and three months in prison for raping a 13-year-old girl.
The report highlights numerous cases of trafficked women and girls — especially indigenous, Afro-descendent and rural women — being forced into labor, including sex work.
The committee denounced the high level of impunity in the country and cited the collusion of state officials in some cases, including in public hospitals and state-run institutions intended to protect minors.
Members also called on the government to implement programs providing sex workers who wish to change professions with viable employment alternatives.
An average of 62 women are murdered every month – equal to 15 per week – in Guatemala, according to a damning report released earlier this month by the National Institute of Forensics. Yet to date, only 82 people have been convicted – all of them men.
The report also revealed that authorities registered more than 1,000 cases of girls under the age of 14 who were left pregnant after being raped.