Relatives and basketball team-mates of a crime victim, carry his coffin prior to his burial in Caracas November 25, 2015. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
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PUERTO ORDAZ, Venezuela: At first sight, Yeyo looks inoffensive: a small, thin adolescent who still wears shorts and talks with a slight stutter.Children's rights group Cecodap says the number of crimes committed by minors under the age of 18 rose about 70 percent in 2014 and that a child or adolescent was murdered every 10 hours on average, most of them shot dead.Violent crime has totally distorted Venezuelan society.Former President Hugo Chavez was a firm believer that attacking poverty, via a fairer distribution of the OPEC member's oil wealth, would eliminate crime.But when that did not materialize, his hand-picked successor Nicolas Maduro, who won power in a 2013 election after Chavez's death, took a more aggressive line on crime, sending security forces in to combat the gangs.It also protected those under 14 from any legal action, even for serious crimes.For many young criminals, prison is no deterrent, given that 90 percent of crimes go unpunished and it is easy to avoid justice.Ruiz estimates 30 percent of local youths are involved in crime, with children as young as eight and nine used as drug "mules" and shootouts common on street corners.
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