Growing numbers of child gangs in Venezuela are using machetes to compete for “quality” garbage to eat as the country’s economic and humanitarian crisis keeps worsening, according to a report published this week.
The Miami Herald details the struggle of a gang of Venezuelan teens who have named themselves the “Chacao,” who use weapons such as knives, sticks, and machetes to fight each other when scavenging for food.
The children, whose ages range from ten to 23, have formed a group hierarchy where some members are cast outside the leadership circle for certain reasons such as selfishness with food or violent behavior.
Last year, the group faced an attack from a rival gang while waiting outside the Centro Comercial Ciudad Tamanaco supermarket, where a lot of garbage is generated.
After being attacked and chased out the area, the children decided to toughen themselves up by collecting weapons and becoming more concerned about self-defense.
“There were always children on the street in Venezuela, but now we are seeing a new phenomenon — kids who get more food on the street than at their homes,” Beatriz Tirado, leader of the non-government charity Street Angels told the Herald. Social workers estimate that there are currently around ten child garbage gangs operating in the capital.
The report is another sign of the dire situation facing hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan children, whose predicament continues to worsen amid the country’s economic, social, political, and humanitarian crisis.
A recent survey undertaken by three Venezuelan universities found that there are now roughly 2.9 million children regularly missing school due to lack of nutrition, or other problems such as lack of water, transport, or electricity.
Despite most schools providing free meals, they rarely provide the necessary nutrition, while most deliveries fail to cover all five days of the week. On days when food is available, there is often a notable lack of protein, with most meals comprising of pasta, rice, and a sauce.
Growing numbers of young girls are also beginning to sell their bodies in exchange for food, with the children’s rights charity CECODAP estimating that around 45,000 young people are working as sex slaves or prostitutes.
Meanwhile, in the wider population, millions of people continue to starve or live in abject poverty as the situation under Nicolás Maduro’s socialist dictatorship continues to worsen. As a result, thousands of Venezuelans are now fleeing to neighboring countries such as Colombia and Brazil in search of a better life.