Photo: EFE retrieved

The complex humanitarian emergency in Venezuela brings thousands of stories along with it. Some of them are of personal growth, others about the victims of xenophobia, or even fellow Venezuelans who have engaged in crimes outside our borders. But there’s also those who cannot leave, the most vulnerable to the crisis: the children.

“His stepfather murdered him and left his body in the house yard, in Caricuao. He wanted to leave the country with the mother, and her child was an obstacle.” 

It was my second week on my new job, and this is one of the first testimonials I had to hear. 

No matter how well prepared and trained you think you are, there are no words to describe the chill that shakes you with this reality in front of you.

No matter how well prepared and trained you think you are, there are no words to describe the chill that shakes you with this reality in front of you.

It was my beginning as a researcher in the knowledge unit of Caracas Mi Convive, a civil organization dedicated to developing policies and programs focused on violence and crime prevention based on evidence, through the empowerment of local communities. Part of my daily work consists of reading and analyzing the data and testimonies associated with violent crimes, provided by the journalists of Runrunes, to further investigate and understand key factors about crime prevention and the impact of our programs towards this goal. 

And as I went more in-depth on the causes of violent deaths, the hopelessness was overwhelming. 

The Enemy Within

The previous story of fatal child abuse, defined as one of the main causes of death in children under three years old, generated under intrafamilial circumstances that, even though rare, have historically occurred in Venezuela, and are still happening worldwide. These cases present a different motive pattern, differing with typical violence instigators: the Venezuelan emergency is now a factor attempting against the lives of our children.

During our last revision of the database from Monitor de Víctimas (Convive-Runrunes), we found that over 80% of violent deaths in the case of children under four years old were at the hands of a parent or a relative. This shocking, disturbing scenario was the case for Jhangel, an eight-month-old baby beaten to death by his father, who took him from his grandmother’s house after the mother left the country and moved to Colombia two months earlier.

One of the cases that caught my attention was Edison, a one-year-old boy asphyxiated by his teenage cousin because she didn’t have any food to give him. She was so desperate, trying to make him stop crying that she lost control while his mom was outside. Please notice that over 80% of the incidents perpetrated by a family member were at the hands of a male. It’s puzzling to me how family bonds, instead of being a source of protection, can be deadly.

But the story that moved me the most was the case of David, who was two when he was killed by his stepfather. The reason? David was an obstacle to his stepfather’s migration with the mother. This is an example of what the humanitarian crisis provokes. 

In about 40% of the registered cases, there was evidence of previous child abuse and even neighbors’ testimonies about how they suspected domestic violence upon the victim. Preventive actions could have avoided at least a third of these deaths. Take a moment to think of that.

These cases present a different motive pattern, differing with typical violence instigators: the Venezuelan emergency is now a factor attempting against the lives of our children.

However, even after the creation and implementation of the Organic Law for the Protection of the Boy, Girl and Teenager (LOPNNA, for its Spanish acronym) twenty years ago, the most relevant NGO for the protection of children and teenagers, CECODAP, mentions how the absence of the government on the protection of children’s rights has created institutional orphanhood. A particularly relevant point is the lack of basic policies, plans or scope to handle cases, the little investment on systems that are supposed to generate indicators and data about the situation, and the absence of a monitoring infrastructure to do follow-ups. 

For this reason, it’s extremely hard for communities to be aware of mechanisms and legal actions, or to effectively denounce any suspicion of abuse. Institutions should be clearly identified and well prepared to sanction abusive parents, and subsequently allocate the kid in the hands of adequate caregivers. 

When I started this investigation, one of my main goals was to find out what I could to prevent this from happening. The most frustrating discovery was that even if I’m willing to take legal action against batterers, there are no institutions that can guarantee a safe place for the children. You’re swimming against the current. It’s then our collective responsibility, all of us, the citizens: we need to provide the safest possible environments for our children, to the best of our abilities and innovative actions to turn those sad testimonies into stories of hope.

Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported. Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.