By Kristine Leclerc
March 8, 2017 (International Woman’s Day) – A date that will never be forgotten by the Mayan community. A date that demonstrates the violence still being done against the women in Guatemala. On this day, 41 beautiful young women between the ages of 14 to 17 lost their lives and 15 others were wounded while in States custody. A fire had broken out at their orphanage in Virgen de la Asuncion in San José Pinula, Guatemala.
This tragic event started March 7, 2017. Many youths, both boys and girls, from the safe house decided to protest against the abuse, rape and overcrowding of where they lived. The safe house had a long history of abuse, mistreatment and human trafficking allegations. The home itself had a capacity of 500 youths but at the time of the fire, was at a capacity between 700 to 800 youths of all ages.
This protest evolved into a riot by mid-day. During the riot, over 100 boys and girls fled the
safe house hoping to find a better life. When informed of the situation, President Jimmy Morales gave his approval to send 100+ police to catc
h them. In the hours that followed, the majority were caught and brought back to the orphanage beaten, in cuffs or at gun point. When all were finally back at the home, as punishment, they were pepper sprayed. Not knowing what to do with the adolescents, the police kept them outside until 1:00am when finally, it was decided to allow them to go back inside.
The boys were redirected back to their rooms while the 56 girls were sent to a 7’ by 7’ classroom which had 22 mattresses, no blankets nor pillows and no bathrooms
available to clean up. Security constantly guarded the door to insure no one escaped.
By morning, the girls were given breakfast in the classroom but still not granted access to washrooms.
By 9:00am March 8th, 2017, Still wanting to flee the physical and sexual abuse, the girls
started a small fire in the classroom expecting security to come free them – but no one did.
Only when the screams for help started to fade, 9.5
minutes later, did the head of security, Deputy police inspector Lucinda Marroquin Carrillo, decide to unlock the classroom door. Many girls still on fire fled the room, as 17 others had already left their lives.
Many walked into the hospital never to come out and others were sent to the US for treatment as they were severely burned on the majority of their bodies.
Of the 15 girls that survived, some have had their h
ands or legs amputated, others have lost their ears, nose, lips and hair and all have suffered psycholo
When family members were made aware of the fire, government officials made it very difficult to get answers. When family members were given answers, often it was false information. It took over two weeks and a lot of help and support from the Mayan community for each daughter who passed to be identified by their mother.
Since the event two years ago, 12 people have be
en charged. Eight will go to trial and four have yet to give their first statement. The legal process against the accused is slow with multiple ongoing delays.
Now, 2 years later, these girls are and will always be remembered as Ocho Tijax (8 Tijax)
The 2019 Education in Action group got the opportu
nity to meet with Stephany Ariaga, an independent investigator working on the case. She told us the story of the 8 Tijax and explained the many other struggles for women in Gua
temala like domestic violence, extreme poverty, little to no access to potable water and high pregnancy rate for girls under 13 years of age. Many same struggles for which the indigenous women in Canada also fight against.
Stephany is now in charge of investigating 10 of the 41 deaths. She has put her heart and sole into this case since the beginning wanting to help and support all th
e mothers who have lost.
Their stories can be followed on Facebook through 8 Tijax or Ocho Tijax.