Seven years into an economic crisis, mothers and fathers have been forced to go abroad in search of work, leaving hundreds of thousands of children in the hands of relatives, friends — and sometimes, one another.
Seven years into an economic collapse, Venezuela’s migrant crisis has grown into one of the largest in the world. Millions have already left. By the end of 2020, an estimated 6.5 million people will have fled, according to the United Nations refugee agency — a number rarely, if ever, seen outside of war.
But hidden inside that data is a startling phenomenon. Venezuela’s mothers and fathers, determined to find work, food and medicine, are leaving hundreds of thousands of children in the care of grandparents, aunts, uncles and even siblings who have barely passed puberty themselves.
Many parents do not want to put their children through the grueling and sometimes very dangerous upheaval of displacement. Others simply cannot afford to take them along.
In rare situations, children have been passed from grandparent to cousin to neighbor, with each caretaker migrating or disappearing, until young people finally have found themselves alone.
“This is a phenomenon that is going to change the face of our society,” said Abel Saraiba, a psychologist at Cecodap, which provides counseling to Venezuelan children. These separations, he added, have the potential to weaken the very generation that is supposed to one day rebuild a battered Venezuela.
The departures are overwhelming community organizations, many of which have seen their donors — middle and upper class families — flee the country just as they need them most.
The arrival of the new coronavirus in Venezuela has isolated these children further. To combat the spread, President Nicolás Maduro has announced a countrywide lockdown, sending the military into the streets to enforce the measures.
The effort has cut many young people off from the teachers and neighbors who may be their only means of support. At the same time, borders are now closed, severing these children from the rest of the world and making it impossible for their parents to return, or to come and retrieve them.