Venezuelan children and women are suffering from a spike in physical, sexual or emotional violence at home, according to new data from Save the Children, as Latin America has become the new epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic.
Insights[i] from Save the Children’s programmes supporting families inside Venezuela and migrants in neighbouring countries paint a harrowing picture:
- In Colombia, staff working near the Venezuelan border have seen a 33% uptick in demand for support related to gender-based violence from mid-March to mid-May. The majority of cases concern sexual violence against children, psychological violence, and physical violence against women by their partners.
- The team in Colombia has seen a nearly 80% increase in calls to our helplines and a 62% increase in psychological first aid consultations.
- Almost a third of surveyed households in Venezuela reported that isolation measures have resulted in an increase of aggression and hostility against children in their home situation.
- In Venezuela, almost 90% of Protection workers interviewed said that children are exposed to risks due to measures taken to contain the spread of COVID-19, such as quarantines and curfews. The most prominent types of violence reported are emotional violence (100%) like shouting or negligence, physical violence (88%), and sexual violence (25%).
These shocking new figures are likely to be just the tip of the iceberg. Domestic and gender-based violence are chronically underreported, with women and children afraid of speaking out in fear of retaliation and stigma. Being trapped in lockdown with their aggressors is likely to worsen this trend.
Maria*, who is supported by Save the Children in Caracas, said: “In my house, things are so tense that only silence can be heard. When my husband is here, my children and I do not dare to move…Since we have been in lock-down, there are no limits to the blows, there is no rest.”
Venezuelan families find themselves in a precarious situation, as lost livelihoods, closed borders and isolation measures are exacerbating their already dire circumstances. These factors, coupled with school closures[ii] and the loss of services designed to protect children and young people, significantly increase the risk of domestic violence.
Before the coronavirus outbreak, Venezuela already had the highest inflation rate in the world, with chronic shortages of food and medicine. The pandemic is stripping away the few remaining livelihood opportunities and it is pushing prices even higher. Increasing shortages of safe water, food, and fuel are driving more people into desperation - some caregivers are lashing out at those nearest to them.
While the need for support for Venezuelan children has never been greater, access to specialised services are out of reach for many in both countries. Local services are overwhelmed and underfunded, or impossible to run due to social-distancing measures. At the onset of the pandemic, many collective shelters had to close. [iii] More than half of parents surveyed in Venezuela said that they would not know where to get support should they need protective services.
Victoria Ward, Save the Children’s Latin America and Caribbean Regional Director, said: “*Our teams are hearing from more and more children who are suffering in silence behind closed doors. The spike in violence is directly linked to the deepening humanitarian crisis and the dwindling options available for increasingly desperate families because of the coronavirus outbreak. *
“It’s unacceptable that many Venezuelan children have no refuge in this crisis – if they follow the rules and stay inside, they face abuse. Home should be where children feel safest.
“If we fail to urgently respond to this violence, children can face immediate and life-long consequences to their health, development, and future prospects. We cannot allow these children’s lives to become the hidden cost of this pandemic.”
The prevention of domestic and gender-based violence must be a priority in the response to the COVID-19 outbreak, and concrete measures – such as programmes to prevent or mitigate the risk of violence, and ensuring that all children and families can access these resources – must be put into place immediately.
Save the Children is calling on regional governments, donors, and the international community to significantly step up support to international, national, and local organisations, to enable them to protect children from violence and to ensure that the UN Secretary-General’s call for decisive action on violence against women is put into practice.
*Name changed to protect identity
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Notes to editors
Since 2017, Save the Children has been working hard to cover the vast and acute humanitarian needs of children and families affected by the Venezuela crisis throughout the Latin America and Caribbean region. Now, we are adapting and expanding our work to support the most vulnerable children and families – including Venezuelan migrants and refugees, host communities, and children and families in Venezuela – who are most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
[i] Information is taken from the Effects of COVID-19 on Venezuelan Households: Rapid Needs Assessment Findings and data from Save the Children programmes in Colombia
[ii] Even before the outbreak of COVID-19, nearly 3 million out of 8 million children in Venezuela were missing some or all classes and 100% of the Venezuelan children and adolescents who were enrolled in their host countries are currently out of school and without a certain return. The pandemic is compounding these barriers with countrywide school closures in both Colombia and Venezuela.
[iii] In Colombia, some shelters have started to reopen