By Vatican News
Over 100,000 people have officially died from Covid-19 in Latin America, with few signs of the outbreak easing in a region marked by crowded cities and high poverty levels.
Even as the tide of infection recedes in Europe and parts of Asia, the South American continent has seen an alarming spike in cases and deaths with the number of infections doubling in less than a month.
Venezuela, a nation already undermined by a devastating economic and social crisis, has recorded more than 4,000 coronavirus cases, compounding the misery of millions of people living on the margins.
Lockdown causing more violence in the home
Save the Children is warning that in the country, where a quarter of the population requires humanitarian assistance, children and women are also facing an increase of physical, sexual or emotional violence at home.
As Latin America becomes the new epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic, a report by Save the Children paints a harrowing picture that shows Venezuelan children and women increasingly at risk of aggression and hostility at home.
The charity has based its findings on reports from the programmes it runs to support families in need inside Venezuela and migrant families in neighbouring countries.
Staff, it says, have reported a significant increase in demand for support related to gender-based violence from mid-March to mid-May. The majority of cases concern sexual violence against children, and psychological and physical violence against women by their partners.
The team in neighbouring Colombia, that hosts almost 1.8 million Venezuelan migrants and refugees, has seen a nearly 80% increase in calls to Save the Children helplines and a 62% increase in psychological first aid consultations.
Almost a third of surveyed households in Venezuela reported that Covid-related isolation measures have increased aggression and hostility against children in their home situations.
Save the Children notes that these shocking new figures are likely to be just the tip of the iceberg, as domestic and gender-based violence are chronically under-reported with victims afraid of speaking out in fear of retaliation and stigma.
Being trapped in lockdown with their aggressors, it observes, is likely to worsen this trend.
Desperation of Venezuelan families
Venezuelan families find themselves in a precarious situation, as lost livelihoods, closed borders and isolation measures are exacerbating their already dire circumstances.
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 is pushing prices even higher.
Increasing shortages of safe water, food, and fuel are driving more people into desperation. While the need for support for Venezuelan children has never been greater, access to specialised services are out of reach for many as local services are overwhelmed and underfunded, or impossible to run due to social-distancing measures.
At the onset of the pandemic, many shelters for battered women and their children had to close. More than half the parents surveyed in Venezuela said that they would not know where to get support should they need protective services.
Appeal to governments, donors, international community
Save the Children is asking that the prevention of domestic and gender-based violence be considered a priority in the response to the pandemic.
It 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.