Venezuela, home to the deadliest city in the world, experienced the homicides of nearly 10,000 underaged individuals in 2016, and 35 percent of homicide victims were under the age of 20.
These statistics were published this week by the Venezuelan Violence Observatory, an NGO that tracks violent crime in the country. The Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional notes that the NGO found 9,113 people between the ages of 15 and 20 were killed last year, while another 854 people under the age of 15 died in “violent circumstances.”
The newspaper also compared these statistics to those of years past: in 2007, 1,200 minors were victims of homicide nationwide. In 1997 — shortly before the rise of socialist dictator Hugo Chávez — that number was 440.
While this particular study did not highlight the homicides of minors at the hands of police, NGOs have previously noted that Venezuelan police have also killed a greater number of minors every year as unrest against the socialist dictatorship has increased. A study released in 2015 found a 55.5 percent increase in the number of killings of underaged Venezuelans by police between 2014 and that year: 912 children. That year was particularly notable for the harrowing murder of Kluiverth Roa, a 14-year-old gunned down by police on his walk home from school. Venezuelan media later reported that Roa had reportedly shouted, “stop the repression,” upon seeing police beating protesters into submission in his native San Cristóbal.
In 2017, however, NGO experts say the police are far from the only threat facing children. The growing scarcity of food and basic goods in the country has led to skyrocketing crime rates, many crimes which involve attacks on children. “If I have a conflict that I cannot resolve through regular channels, like dialogue, I look for the way to hit where it hurts most: using children,” explains Fernando Pereira of the NGO Cecodap, noting that criminals have increasingly targeted children for kidnapping and attacks. “Children are easier because minors are easy to subdue and intimidate.”
Minors themselves are also engaging in greater amounts of criminal activity. Eceodap found a 12.5 percent increase in the number of crimes committed by female adolescents in 2015, though boys under 18 are still responsible for 78 percent of crimes in their age group. “Girls are using violence in greater numbers to survive,” Pereira explained.
Under dictator Nicolás Maduro, criminal activity has increased dramatically — a product of both socialist mismanagement of the economy and a generalized climate of violence in a nation that regularly attacks peaceful anti-socialist activists. Homicides are so common that morgues reported late last year that “exploding” decaying corpses had become a regular problem. In addition to being overpopulated, morgues are suffering a severe lack of necessary embalming and preserving chemicals and cannot pay for air conditioning or proper equipment to preserve bodies.
A lack of basic food goods — including milk, vegetable oil, and flour — has also triggered a wave of looting incidents around the country. Venezuelans need special ration cards to buy goods at supermarkets, and even with the cards, there is no guarantee that the stores will be stocked. Looting reached its peak in December when Maduro decreed that all 100 bolívar bills were invalid currency but failed to immediately provide new, higher denomination bills to keep up with inflation.
Under Maduro, Caracas, the nation’s capital, took over San Pedro Sula, Honduras’s spot on the list of deadliest cities in the world.