The Venezuelan Babies Being Born Stateless in Colombia

In 2016 alone, Venezuela’s infant mortality rose by 30% and maternal mortality by 65%. Back then, the situation in Venezuela wasn’t as dire as it is now. Because of the current economic crisis, women in Venezuela don’t have access to the healthcare or supplies they need to give birth safely and raise their babies.

Hospitals are running low on doctors and medicine. For example, the Jose Manuel de los Rios Children’s Hospital in Caracas lost 20% of its medical staff in just two years as 68 of its doctors fled the country between 2016 and 2018. Many women don’t have access to diapers, milk and formula. In some cases women are also too malnourished to breastfeed their babies.

Knowing this, it’s not surprising that many pregnant women are leaving the country to give birth. So far, the UN Refugee Agency estimates that 2.4 million Venezuelans have left their country for other Latin American nations. Their most common destinations are Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Argentina, Chile and Brazil, in that order. While the latter countries grant citizenship to everyone born in their territories; the situation in Colombia is different.

In Cúcuta, Colombia, a city located near the border between Colombia and Venezuela, medical authorities indicate that there are now more Venezuelan women giving birth than Colombian women. Out of the 554 babies born in medical institutions in Cúcuta in September 2018, 353 (64%) have Venezuelan mothers.

Colombian legislation states that children, even when born in Colombia, cannot have Colombian nationality if their parents aren’t Colombian or don’t have a legal migrant status in the country. This applies to the babies being born of Venezuelan women who don’t have official refugee status yet.

Venezuelan citizens are currently struggling to acquire passports, which leads to impediments and difficulties to process a visa or asylum request. The lack of documentation also presents an obstacle for these mothers to register their babies as Venezuelan citizens in the Venezuelan consulates in Colombia because they can’t prove their own nationality.

These babies are stuck being stateless until their parents can register them in a Venezuelan consulate.

Not having a national identity and legal attachment to a country means having no government protection, and no access to certain benefits and rights.

The Colombian government is looking for solutions to this problem, but in the meantime there is a risk of having an ‘invisible generation’ of Venezuelans who do not legally exist in any country.

This is one of the many consequences of the Venezuelan refugee crisis that countries in Latin America need to address to reduce the vulnerability of Venezuelans.

Mothers are leaving their country to ensure their babies are born somewhere they can live safely, but without a nationality they are stuck in migration limbo.

Girls’ Globe is…the Place Where I Belong

I first met Girls’ Globe in New York, a little over a year ago. I was lucky enough to attend the Global Citizen Festival during the United Nations General Assembly Week as one of the Global Young Leaders from Johnson & Johnson.

As one of J&J’s partners, Girls’ Globe was there to document the process and profile the seventeen Young Leaders from around the globe; young people working on empowering projects and representing issues from their communities – issues that inspired them to do more.

I met the Girls’ Globe team – a group of diverse, intelligent and inspiring woman who were there to share our stories, but at the same time, to share their own. I was very interested to learn more about them. How did they become bloggers for this global organization dedicated to inspiring others? I immediately thought: what an incredible project! How can I be a part of it? I remember casually saying, “hey, if you ever need a new blogger, let me know…” but I never actually thought it would happen!

During the week, we took a road trip from New York to New Jersey, and on the way back I was sitting next to Girls’ Globe Founder – Julia Wiklander. Since there was a lot of traffic, we started chatting about our projects and how we wound up where we are.

I told Julia about the time I was counselor of a WiSci (Women in Science) Camp at Peru, an initiative of Girl Up, which is a UN campaign that sees girls from Mexico, the United States, Peru and Chile learning from companies like Google and Intel.

I told her that we had the incredible opportunity to write a few blog posts on Huffington Post about the experience, but also how unfortunate it was that they were posted on Huffington Post Spain, because there was’t a dedicated platform for Latin America (until recently – Huffington Post has since expanded to Mexico). I thought it was a shame because although we share the same language, we have very different realities, and I felt we needed a distinct platform for Latin America.

So I dropped the big question: “Hey, have you thought of translating girlsglobe.org to Spanish?” Without hesitation Julia said: “Oh, I haven’t, but let’s do it!

First, I joined Girls’ Globe as blogger, and the rush of writing my first post about Latin America’s march against gender-based violence was incredibly empowering. Every statistic was painful, but the thought of writing for a global platform about issues specifically affecting my region, my country and of my community kept me going. I was going to be able to share our pain and our joy, and have other women and men from the world join our fight.

I was (and I still am) talking about Girls’ Globe everywhere. We now have several active bloggers from Latin America. We’re adding content about our region, and that is a major victory.

One of the major challenges is something for which I have to applaud the Latin American bloggers: writing and expressing themselves in another language. One of our big goals for the future is to be able to translate content on girlsglobe.org – not only into Spanish, but Portuguese too – as by doing so we will be able to elevate more girls and young women from the region who feel more comfortable writing in their native language.

And so this is a love letter to girlsglobe.org. Girls’ Globe has given me a place where I can raise my voice, without fear and without censure, and for that I will be forever grateful. It has given me the opportunity to bring more women on board to join this unique community and give them a space to express themselves about issues that matter to them. Girls’ Globe is a place where we can all belong.

Throughout the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, Girls’ Globe is crowdfunding to be able to keep raising voices in 2018. Please support us so that we can continue to share our stories and reach every corner of the world! If you are a Latin American reader and are interested in becoming a blogger, please feel free to leave a comment. 

How Venezuela’s Crisis Has Affected Women’s Lives

This past July, The New York Times’ front page featured an image of Venezuela’s street protests, showcasing the deep political, economic, and human rights crisis in the country. The violence that has ensued is a serious problem, but other, less visible effects are also problematic – and some affect the country’s women more than its men.

Situations of conflict and crisis are not gender neutral. Luz Patricia Mejía, a Venezuelan expert in women’s rights working at the Organization of American States, made this point in an interview when saying that in any kind of crisis, women’s rights are disproportionately affected. Three areas in which women have been suffering the greatest in the Venezuela crisis: menstrual and sexual health, maternal and infant health, and gender-based violence.  

Menstrual and sexual health:

Food isn’t the only things missing in Venezuela’s supermarkets and pharmacies: so are condoms, birth control pills and menstrual hygiene products.

Earlier this year, factories from different companies had to stop production of sanitary pads, affecting not only the women who desperately need them, but also the women and men employed by those factories. Venezuelans have had to turn to social media to find basic necessities, and many women have resorted to this to get tampons and pads – by exchanging them for flour, for example.

Venezuela is the country with the highest rate of teen pregnancy and earliest start of sexual activity in South America. A lack of contraception is especially problematic. Because of this, couples have had to make drastic changes to their sex lives to avoid pregnancy, such as using calendar-based methods and buying birth control pills off the black market.

Some Venezuelan women have chosen an extreme method of avoiding pregnancy during the crisis: sterilization. Speaking about her decision to go through the procedure, a young mother of two, aged only 25, said in an interview: “I will not bring a child to suffer. 

Some women who do find themselves pregnant amid the crisis have resorted to a dangerousand illegalalternative: unsafe abortions through homemade herbal medicine and introducing acids through the vaginal canal, procedures that can cause severe and life-threatening bleeding.

Maternal and infant health:

Lack of medicine and basic hospital supplies, as well as a reduction of the number of doctors in the country (in recent years, around 20% of doctors have left Venezuela because of working conditions) adversely affect maternal and infant health in the country. Hospitals have been lacking incubators and other essentials to care for pregnant women and newborn babies. Lack of food also means many mothers are unable to breastfeed.

More worrisome, infant mortality increased by 30% and maternal mortality by a staggering 65% in 2016—and back then, the crisis was not yet at its worst. 

Gender-based violence:  

Domestic and gender based violence don’t stop just because the rest of the country is in a crisis. In 2016, for example, the number of femicides increased compared to the year before. The dire situations in hospitals also affect the victims of domestic violence who need medical attention. Impunity of gender-based crimes is also a major issue, especially given that it’s currently estimated that impunity of human rights related crime in the country hovers around 98%.

As the crisis in Venezuela persists, so do the daily struggles of women to access their basic needs and rights. The ways in which this crisis has affected women’s lives highlights how gender issues are extremely important in the context of crisis and conflict, and should be taken into consideration as these situations are studied, researched, reported, and addressed.