One of the children said a power outage forced them to use candles for lighting. (AP: Dieu Nalio Chery)
Fifteen children have died in a fire that swept through an orphanage in Haiti run by a US religious group, triggering renewed controversy over the hundreds of unlicensed orphanages in the poorest nation in the Americas.
- Children at the orphanage were said to be using candles before the fire due to a power outage
- The orphanage is run by an American church based out of Pennsylvania and is one of hundreds of such institutions on the island, many unlicensed
- The church is yet to comment on the fire, while Haiti’s President Jovenel Moise called for an investigation
The cause of the blaze at the Pennsylvania-based Church of Bible Understanding’s orphanage in Kenscoff, just south of the capital Port-au-Prince, was not clear.
One of the children at the orphanage told Reuters they had been using candles because the power in the block was out and a generator was not working.
Arielle Jeanty Villedrouin, director of Haiti’s Institute for Social Welfare and Research, said the US religious group did not have a licence to operate the institution, which housed around 60 children.
Fifteen children died inside The Orphanage of the Church of Bible Understanding. (AP: Dieu Nalio Chery)
Orphanages — which mostly house not just orphans but children whose parents feel they cannot afford to look after them — proliferated after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti that killed tens of thousands.
Yet just 35 of 754 such institutions are officially authorised, with another 100 in the process of getting a licence.
The Government has closed about 160 institutions over the past five years, Ms Villedrouin said, and has barred more from opening.
“We are going to place them in a transit centre while we do research on their families and see if we can reunite them with their parents,” she said.
Fire gutted the orphanage at Kenscoff, just south of the capital Port-au-Prince. (AP: Dieu Nalio Chery)
Four in five of the approximately 30,000 children in Haiti’s orphanages have living parents, according to the Government.
A spokeswoman for Church of Bible Understanding in Port-au-Prince said they would comment “when it is appropriate”.
There was no response to a voicemail seeking comment at the number listed for the Orphanage of the Church of Bible Understanding at its office in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
The group says on its website it opened its first orphanage in Haiti nearly 40 years ago, with a primary goal “to spread the Gospel to any and all who will receive it”.
“I call on the relevant authorities to take urgent measures to decipher the cause of this drama,” President Jovenel Moise wrote in a tweet, expressing his “profound sadness”.
@moisejovenel: I am deeply moved by the death of a dozen children following the fire declared last night in the premises of the Understanding the Bible orphanage, located in Fermathe. I urge the competent authorities to adopt urgent measures to establish the causes of this tragedy.
Nearly 60 per cent of Haiti’s 11.2 million inhabitants survive on less than $2.40 a day, according to the World Bank.
Poverty, disability and a lack of access to basic healthcare, education and social services mean many Haitian parents send their children to orphanages or wealthier relatives or acquaintances.
Those taken in by relatives are often used as servants or isolated from children in the household and seldom sent to school, critics say.
Children living in hundreds of orphanages suffer sexual and physical abuse and some are trafficked into orphanages for profit to attract donations, the London-based charity Lumos wrote in a report three years ago.
Donors, mostly from the United States and faith-based organisations, give $70 million a year to one-third of Haiti’s orphanages, it said.