Lives Cut Short

60 homicides of children and adolescents have been unofficially recorded so far this year in the Greater Caracas area. Photo Joel Aranguren, El Universal
60 homicides of children and adolescents have been unofficially recorded so far this year in the Greater Caracas area. Photo Joel Aranguren, El Universal

TODAY VENEZUELA – Luis Hernandez was a 13-year old seventh grader living in Petare, one of the many sprawling slums that swamp most of Caracas. He dreamed of being a fireman when he grew up, and was in training to become one at the Francisco de Miranda Fire Brigade in La Urbina, where he had been volunteering since he was nine years old.

The boy died on April 13 after he was stabbed repeatedly inside his home, media reports indicate. This death did not only cut short a boy’s dream of becoming a firefighter, it is just one of so many acts of atrocities that have untimely taken away so many promising lives. But the thought of killing children is not horrific enough for these murderers.

At least 31,545 cases of violence against children and adolescents were recorded between October 2008 and December 2015, of which 5,872 ended in murder, the non- governmental Community Learning Centers (Cecodap) has reported

But the case of Luis is just one in 60 homicides of children and adolescents unofficially recorded so far this year in the Greater Caracas area. Last year, Caracas was ranked as the most murderous city on Earth, according to a study by Mexican think-tank the Citizens Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice. The report calculates that Caracas’s 3,946 homicides in 2015 gave it a truly terrifying annual homicide rate of 120 per 100,000 residents.

In Venezuela violence has spread throughout the country across all sectors of society, making no distinction between children and adults. In fact between October 2008 and December 2015, 31,545 cases of violence against children and adolescents – 5,872 of which ended in murder – were recorded, as the non- governmental Community Learning Centers (Centros Comunitarios de Aprendizaje, Cecodap, an NGO dedicated to the protection of children ) reported.

A sustained increase

A comparative analysis of the Cecodap reports shows a sustained trend towards increasing violence against children and adolescents. Just between the last half of 2008 and September 2009, 3,231 violent acts against children and adolescents were reported. This figure rose to 3,708 cases between October 2009 and September 2010, accounting for a 14.8% increase.

A total 4,107 cases were recorded between October 2010 and September 2011, a 10.8% increase compared to the previous year. In 2012 the figure rose to 4,455 (8.5%), while a slight 7.2% decrease was recorded in 2013 (4,133 cases). In 2014, however, there was a 32% spike in violence (5,456 cases), a trend that increased by 18.3% in 2015 when 6,455 cases were recorded.

It is worth mentioning that the data held by Cecodap are based on cases reported by the national press during a specific year, therefore, they incorporate only a very small sample of all the cases occurring in the country. General coordinator of Cecodap, Fernando Pereira, is quick to note that “the reality is much worse.” He regrets that for several years now the authorities have failed to publish official statistics, which would be instrumental in accurately determining the seriousness of the problem in order to design an effective action plan to prevent and address cases of violence against children.

From Cecodap’s perspective, increased sustained and systematic violence against children is a direct result of the lack of public policies for this sector of the population. This view is shared by Gloria Perdomo, a social worker and member of the Institute of Legal Research at Andrés Bello Catholic University (UCAB). She notes that violence against children and adolescents is becoming increasingly frequent because they are more defenseless and therefore easier to submit. She recalls that violence “is the recourse to the use of force as a means to impose one’s point of view to another person.”

Exposure to multiple forms of violence

The Cecodap reports show that, over the past seven years, a significant number of children and adolescents have become victims of violence in their closest environment, namely, the community, schools and even their homes, where physical and emotional violent actions occur that, in some cases, end in fatalities. Thus children are exposed to at least six types of violence: social, family, school, institutional, sexual and accidents.

According to the latest Cecodap study, released two weeks ago, of the 6,455 cases of violence against children and adolescents reported in 2015, the most frequent types were social violence, with 2,534 victims (39.26%) and school violence with 1,671 victims (25.9%). The third place went to accidents, with 1,285 victims (19.91%), followed by sexual violence, with 359 victims (5.56%), family violence, with 318 (4.93%), institutional violence, with 273 victims (4 23%) and other types of violence, with 15 victims (0.23%).

Statistics show that social violence increased by 27.79% compared to 2014, from 1983 to 2,534 cases, of which adolescents, mostly boys, are the most affected group.

That said, it should be noted that while social violence involves acts of society that jeopardize the physical, psychological, economic and moral integrity of individuals, as in the case of insecurity, the Cecodap report notes that in 2015 there was a huge increase in this type of violence due to “the current shortcomings of the social system that undermine and jeopardize the lives of children and adolescents, such as the situation of hospitals, medical negligence, lack of medicines, among others.” According to the report, cases of social violence as a result of the widespread shortages of basic goods facing the country are already beginning to show themselves.

Violence goes to school

During 2015 violence in schools increased by 38%, with 1,671 cases recorded, compared to 1,210 cases in 2014. Most cases involved school burglary (26%), protests by teachers (17%) and deficiencies in the school infrastructure (15%). Cecodap has introduced a new concept: absence from school by children who must wait in line for hours to buy basic foodstuff. Such is the case of 14-year old eighth grader María (not her real name). While acknowledging that she doesn’t like school very much, she says she’d rather go to school than to wait in line to purchase products at the subsidized “fair price” established by the government. Her mother’s designated day to purchase food, as indicated by the last digit on her ID card, is Tuesday. So, every Tuesday she misses school to support her mother by reserving a spot in the long lines at grocery stores.

Almost 6,000 homicides

Increasing violence and rampant crime in Venezuela expose children and adolescents to serious risks of death or grave physical and mental harm. The Cecodap reports show that 5,872 homicides of children occurred from 2009 to 2015, of which 1,026 cases were reported last year – a 12.5% increase compared to the 912 cases recorded in 2014. This is equivalent to 85 homicides per month. In there were 703 cases in 2009 and 694 in 2010; while in 2011 the murders increased to 795, and in 2012 to 904. In 2013 there was a slight decrease in the number of victims (838 cases).

Pereira notes that the sustained increase in violence against children, as evidenced from these figures, is a relentless trend that has persisted for the past seven years, but it has an earlier origin. A total 242 homicides of youths under 18 years of age was recorded in 1992, according to figures from the now-defunct Technical Judicial Police (PTJ), i.e. 20 deaths per month; but in 2002 the number of deaths more than doubled this figure to 521 murders, equivalent to 47 deaths per month, according to official data from the Scientific, Penal and Criminal Investigation Corps (CICPC). In 2008 the number of homicides increased by 43.7% to reach 748 murders, i.e. 62 deaths per month, according to official Cicpc reports.

Homicide remains the most common form of social violence against children and adolescents. In 2015, for example, there was an increase of 8.38% to 750 cases, compared to 692 in 2014. Most affected were adolescents aged 12 -17 (94%) and male (91%), which in Pereira’s view reveals the existence of a model of masculinity associated with the violent resolution of conflicts.

Original article appeared in the El Universal