Security forces in Venezuela killed over 250 minors in 2016, a steep rise compared to the previous year and yet another worrying indication of the excessive use of force by state agents amid deteriorating security conditions in the country.
A total of 254 adolescents and young children were killed by Venezuelan security forces last year, according to a new report by the civil society group Cecodap, which focuses on the rights and needs of children and adolescents. That figure represents a 43.5 percent increase from the 177 reported youth deaths at the hands of security forces in 2015.
Of the 2016 deaths, 162 occurred during "police confrontations," the report found, while 21 came as the result of security operations carried out as part of the anti-crime initiative Operation Liberation and Protection of the People (Operación de Liberación y Protección del Pueblo - OLP), designed to attack the growing "megabandas" across the country, a new form of heavily armed organized crime. The government has since re-branded the initiative as Operation Humanist Liberation of the People (Operación Liberación Humanista del Pueblo - OLHP) amid concerns of widespread human rights abuses.
The overall number of children killed in Venezuela last year rose to 1,150, a 12.1 percent increase from 2015.
The figures from Cecodap are based on a comprehensive review of news reports from 31 national and regional media outlets.
InSight Crime Analysis
It's not clear what caused the rise in security force violence against youths and children, but it's probably due to a combination of factors -- none of which are promising for Venezuela's security outlook in 2017.
The well-documented use of excessive force by Venezuelan security forces is the most glaring possibility. The OLPs in particular have come under heavy criticism for using indiscriminate, heavy-handed violence; they were linked to an October 2016 massacre and have been likened to death squads because of the high number of casualties inflicted during their operations. But the Cecodap's data suggests the problem is generalized across the country's police forces.
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The country's ongoing economic crisis has also led to a collapse in the social order, causing a rise in crime and overall lawlessness. Without any viable opportunities in the legal economy, more minors may be turning to crime in order to earn some sort of income. A physician and member of Venezuela's political opposition told the Miami Herald last year that 20 percent of children face problems associated with malnutrition, a stark illustration of how the country's economic plight -- and its attendant problems -- have affected the country's most vulnerable populations. Interviews by InSight Crime in Venezuela suggest that many small criminal gangs are manned by youths, many of them under the age of 18.