Fire at Haiti orphanage kills 15 children

Concerns have been raised about unlicensed orphanages

Rose-Marie Louis, a staff worker at the Orphanage of the Church of Bible Understanding, holds her head amid the charred children's home, including the unrecognizable body of a child marked by a yellow piece of paper, bottom right, in Kenscoff, on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Friday, Feb. 14, 2020. A fire swept through this orphanage run by a Pennsylvania-based nonprofit group, killing over a dozen children, according to health care workers. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)
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Fifteen children have died after a fire swept through an orphanage in Haiti run by a US religious group, authorities said on Friday.

It has triggered renewed controversy over the hundreds of unlicensed orphanages in the Americas.

The incident happened at the Pennsylvania-based Church of Bible Understanding's orphanage in Kenscoff, just south of the capital.

The cause of the blaze was not yet known.

A witness claimed the orphanage 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 license to operate the institution, which housed around 60 children.

Only 35 out 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, 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 family and see if we can reunite them with their parents," she said.

Four in five of the 30,000 children in Haiti's orphanages have living parents, according to the government.

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".

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.