‘I have nothing’

In Venezuela, desperate mothers are increasingly giving away children in order to survive

Mariana, 11, has been living on the street with her mother for the past three years. (YouTube / BBC News)

As Venezuela’s economic crisis continues to drive the country’s poor into starvation, mothers are increasingly giving away their children — and even releasing them onto the street to fend for themselves — so that they can still afford to feed the rest of their family. Extreme poverty in Venezuela has jumped 40 percent over the past two years, prompting mothers to sell their hair for food and millions to flee the country in desperation. In a report for BBC News, correspondent Vladimir Hernandez traveled to Caracas where he spoke with a number of children living on the street, as well as mothers who found themselves having to make the most difficult of choices in order to survive.

Marisella and her daughter, 11-year-old Mariana, said they had been homeless for three years following the death of her husband.

“I ask around for help, but sometimes I have to rummage through rubbish to feed my kids,” Marisella admitted, noting that she and her child routinely face verbal abuse from those who they beg for food. “People simply don’t know how bad our needs are and don’t understand that I won’t let my kids go hungry.”

“It annoys me that people talk shit about us,” added Mariana. “That hurts me and it makes me angry … Today we’ve been very hungry. My body didn’t feel well. I tell people that I’m hungry, that I need help. People normally say, ‘I have nothing for you.’”

Leonardo Rodriguez, director of NGO House of Don Bosco, told Hernandez that his organization had seen a 40 to 50 percent increase in the number of children seeking refuge in their homeless shelters since 2016 — most of them girls.

“The numbers have gone up another 60 percent in the first half of 2018,” he said. “In particular because of the sharp rise of girls living on the streets.”

Maria, a 6 month pregnant mother of five, told the BBC about how the brutal economic reality — including a lack of access to contraception that has driven many women to seek sterilization — was devastating her life and those of other mothers. Over the past two years, she had been forced to give away three of her five children to other families so that she could afford to feed the rest. Her soon to be born child, she said, would also be given away.

“I told my children that I didn’t want to give them away, but that I just can’t can’t support them,” she recalled, wiping away tears. “One day, I swear to God, I’ll try to get them back.”

Watch the full BBC News report below.

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