Fire at Guatemala children's shelter kills at least 19 and injures dozens

Guatemala Fire kills 19 children at a shelter

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At least 19 teenage girls have died after a fire at a children's care home in Guatemala.

About 25 others were injured in the fire at the Virgen de Asuncion shelter in San Jose Pinula.

Guatemalan media said around 60 youngsters escaped from the home, which takes in children who have been victims of abuse and trafficking or abandoned. Allegations of the inmates being mistreated or sexually abused were also made, according to BBC.

Guatemala's prosecutor for upholding children's rights, Hilda Morales, told reporters she was requesting the shelter be closed due to welfare authorities' inability to manage it.

In the dormitories for adolescent girls, mattresses were set ablaze on Wednesday morning following riots and escape attempts, it was reported.

On Tuesday night, riot police were sent in to quell unrest over the crowded living conditions at the home.

Nery Ramos, head of Guatemala's national police, said officers are trying to establish whether any of those isolated were involved in the fire - which started after mattresses were set alight in the girls' section.

Local hospitals say around 40 people are being treated for burns.

Conditions in the Central American nation's public institutions are often dismal with widespread overcrowding.

Burnt bodies partially covered in blankets were strewn across the floor of a blackened room in the home, pictures posted to Twitter by firefighters showed.

Morfín said her office "has the duty to protect and represent children and adolescent and those vulnerable and that lack representation".

In Guatemala's Congress, lawmakers held a minute of silence for the victims of the fire before demanding those in charge of the center be dismissed. It was created for girls taken from unsafe or abusive homes into state custody, but also housed some who had committed crimes.

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