As conditions worsen in Venezuela, more and more families are finding themselves in a state of food insecurity. As of 2016, two-thirds of all Caracas households surveyed by the children’s rights group Cecodap reported that they were not eating a substantial quantity of food, and that number has been rising (Walkers 2016). With few alternatives, many parents have had to turn their nightmares into reality and give up their children in an effort to provide them with food.
However, with the surge of like-minded parents rushing to find support for their sons and daughters throughout the country, state-run and privately owned services have had to close their doors on desperate families.
Fundana is Venezuela’s largest orphanage, located in Caracas. When it was founded almost three decades ago, the majority of children at the center were the product of cases of abuse or neglect. In recent years, though, social workers from Fundana estimate that at a minimum hundreds of children are being left at similar orphanages owing to economic reasons. As of yet, no official statistics on the figure exist, but privately run child care organizations have been able to use their own numbers to guess at the enormity of the situation (Faiola 2018).
Bambi House, the second-largest orphanage in the country, stated that its demand for placements increased by 30 percent in the past year. The organization’s founder, Erika Pardo, explained that infants are also spending more time within the center, as foster families can only take on older children due to the high cost or absence of diapers and formula. Like Fundana and other agencies, Bambi House has had to turn away dozens of mothers owing to overcrowding and lack of resources, and many homes now have waiting lists to receive children (Faiola 2018).
The dependence on such private institutions is a result of the unreported failure of public adoption agencies. One child-welfare official in El Libertador, which is one of the poorest neighborhoods in the capital, referred to the situation of public orphanages as “catastrophic,” commenting on the nonexistence of diapers and the worsening health conditions and nutrition of the children who are being dropped off. The official, who spoke anonymously to avoid government retaliation, remarked, “we can’t take care of them” (Faiola 2018).
The consequence has taken the form of hundreds of minors who must choose between rummaging the streets to find sustenance or risk the perils of emigrating to a country with deeper resources. Especially along the Colombian border, though, these children are becoming the targets of various human trafficking rings and the prey of sexual offenders.
Juan Carlos Garzon, director of conflict and peace negotiations at The Ideas for Peace Foundation (FIP), explained that the Colombian government “has very little control” along border areas, where many criminal gangs and guerrilla groups are active. For many girls, the end of a 124 mile journey often made on foot across the border and aided by these groups is ended with the seizure of their documents and coercion into prostitution. This year, Colombian authorities uncovered a sex trafficking ring in Cartagena that was charged with selling more than 250 females into the sex trade, the majority being adolescent Venezuelans (Moloney 2018).
Colombia’s child protection agency (ICBF) announced that within just four months of this year they had identified 350 Venezuelan children forced into child labor. Many of the children migrating from Venezuela are being forced into begging, rented out to panhandle at street lights (Moloney 2018).
Driven to work or find reprieve elsewhere, it is clear where many Venezuelan children are not present: in school.
Of Venezuela’s eight million school-age children, nearly three million have missed some or all of their classes this year. Although free education was one of Hugo Chavez’s major undertakings during his presidency, schools are now in crisis as they are unable to provide students with food or classroom tools. At the beginning of this year, half of the 20 public schools in the town of Socopo were forced to temporarily close. After reopening, those schools, like the rest of the 1,600 schools in the state of Barinas, have only been operating three days a week (Sequera & Aguilar 2018).
Victor Venegas, the president of the Barinas chapter of the national Federation of Education Workers, sadly observed that “hungry people aren’t able to teach or learn” (Sequera & Aguilar 2018).
The war on education does not end with younger children, though. Teenagers and young adults have also found their futures in limbo, as many have had to choose between higher education and working to help contribute to their families’ income. For college-aged men and women who are fortunate to have the opportunity to study, their choice of schools is becoming slim.
President Nicolás Maduro has begun to strip top public and private institutions of funding, considering them to be enemies of the state. One such university is the Central University of Venezuela (UCV), which this year received only 28 percent of its requested annual funding (a decrease from 44 percent in 2014). It is expected that the school will only receive 18 percent next year. In comparison, the 26 colleges dubbed “Bolivarian universities” that were created by Chávez have enjoyed the majority of the national education budget. As of this year, these 26 schools educate 2.6 million students, while the rest of Venezuela’s 10 public universities only have 875,000 students, with enrollment dropping each day (Krygier & Faiola 2018).
In many of the public and private institutions, budget shortages have led to unlit classrooms, flooding, structural damage and plumbing issues. Many professors in these schools who have voiced their distaste for the government have been jailed or exiled, and those that remain have had to commit less time to student advising and teaching to compensate for the six USD monthly minimum wage for college educators. (Krygier & Faiola 2018).
While UCV used to be rated as Latin America’s sixth most-impressive institution for academic research, its rating has suffered from decreased enrollment, a lack of teaching professionals and violence that plagues the campus after hours. With government funding declining each year and the 2010 government ban of funding of university research by private companies, it is unlikely that schools like UCV will be able to maintain operation for much longer without a major change.
Many professors of private and public universities have suggested that government interference on their institutions is a direct threat to critical thinking and an attempt to create a generation of graduates willing to indisputably adhere to the policies of the state as they are taught in Bolivarian universities.
Although it is impossible to judge the extent of the effects that will come of generations of school age Venezuelans without access to education, many professionals are fearing a nation of illiterate citizens in the future. The longer such practices are continued, the more difficult it will become to reverse the effects of insufficient schooling, and as more educated and qualified Venezuelans flee the country, the country could see the collapse of the professional industry.
Walkers, Peter. 2016. “‘We’re living in the end of times’: Starving Venezuelans giving away children to survive.” 16 December. Independent. Available to read here: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/starving-venezuelans-giving-away-children-survive-economic-crisis-a7479756.html [Accessed 9 November 2018].
Moloney, Anastasia. 2018. “Venezuela’s crisis boosts trafficking risk for women, children: experts.” 30 August. Reuters. Available to read here: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-venezuela-migrants-trafficking/venezuelas-crisis-boosts-trafficking-risk-for-women-children-experts-idUSKCN1LF1XG [Accessed 9 November 2018]
Faiola, Anthony. 2018. “Venezuela’s economy is so bad, parents are leaving their children at orphanages.” 12 February. The Washington Post. Available to read here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/venezuelas-economy-is-so-bad-parents-are-leaving-their-children-at-orphanages/2018/02/12/8021d180-0545-11e8-aa61-f3391373867e_story.html?utm_term=.2f0818352b4c [Accessed 9 November 2018].
Krygier, Rachelle & Faiola, Anthony. 2017. “Venezuela’s universities feel the sting of economic and political crisis.” 17 November. The Washington Post. Available to read here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/venezuelas-universities-feel-the-sting-of-economic-and-political-crisis/2017/11/15/665068aa-c59b-11e7-9922-4151f5ca6168_story.html?utm_term=.c90dd1f701eb [Accessed 12 November 2018]
Sequera, Vivian & Aguilar, Francisco. 2018. “Venezuelan schools emptying as Chavez legacy under threat.” 25 April. Reuters. Available to read here: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-venezuela-schools/venezuelan-schools-emptying-as-chavez-legacy-under-threat-idUSKBN1HW1KL [Accessed 12 November 2018]