Haiti orphanage fire kills 15, renews debate over unlicensed orphanages

PORT-AU-PRINCE: Fifteen children died in a fire that swept overnight through an orphanage in Haiti run by a US religious group, authorities said on Friday, triggering renewed controversy over the hundreds of unlicensed orphanages in the poorest nation in the Americas.
Two children were burned to death and 13 died due to smoke inhalation in the blaze that ravaged the Pennsylvania-based Church of Bible Understanding’s orphanage in Kenscoff, just south of the capital.
The cause of the blaze was not clear. One of the children at the orphanage said they had been using candles because the power in the block was out and a generator was not working.
Arielle Jeanty Villedrouin, director of the Institute for Social Welfare, said the religious group did not have a licence to operate the institution, which housed around 60 children.
“Orphanages” — which in reality 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 license. The government has closed around 160 institutions over the last five years, Villedrouin said, and has barred more from opening.
“We are going to place them in a transit centre while we do research on their family and see if we can reunite them with their parents,” she said.
Four in five of the around 30,000 children in Haiti’s orphanages have living parents, according to the government. A woman who answered the Church Understanding’s telephone number in Port-au-Prince, asked for comment, said: “We will make it known 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.” — Reuters