As Venezuela's economic crisis continues to escalate, poor and hungry parents are being forced to make the hardest decision imaginable: giving up their children.

Since falling oil prices triggered the downward spiral of Venezuela’s economy in 2013, money and food have become scarce for families across the country. Shortages of food led to the emergence of disturbing health statistics, such as a 100% increase in child mortality between 2012 and 2015.

By 2017, the crisis had ballooned further, resulting in record numbers of children being admitted to hospitals for severe malnutrition, and dying in numbers doctors had never before seen, according to the New York Times.

Take Action: Children Are Starving And They Need Your Help

Now, a Washington Post report details the newest byproduct of Venezuela’s worsening crisis: unprecedented levels of child abandonment and orphanage placement by parents who hope these shelters can provide their children with food.

According to the report, the sheer number of children being taken to orphanages and child-custody centers has increased so much that public institutions for vulnerable children are “collapsing,” and private organizations are struggling to take in the others. The number of children being abandoned on the streets is also increasing at alarming rates.

A Venezuelan social worker provided the Post with a heartbreaking quote that captured the desperation of the situation.

“They can’t feed their children,” said Magdelis Salazar in reference to poverty-stricken parents. “They are giving them up not because they don’t love them but because they do.”

Global Citizen campaigns on the United Nations’ Global Goals. Ending extreme poverty and hunger are goals number one and two respectively. You can take action on these issues here.

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One of the major reasons for the severe food shortages today can be traced back to the country’s shift toward an increased reliance on imported food in the years prior to 2013, a time of extended economic prosperity thanks to high oil prices.

The Guardian reports that in a country that once produced three-quarters of its own food, citizens are left struggling to afford imported food, which now constitutes 70% of all available food items.

Today, roughly nine in 10 Venezuelan families can’t afford to buy enough food to provide for their families, and more than 10 million Venezuelans skip at least one meal per day, according to the Guardian.

Read More: Venezuelan Gangs Are Using Food to Recruit Children

Even for Venezuelans who have jobs, hyperinflation, rising food prices, and inability to withdraw money means that accessing already scarce food is a challenge. Reports paint a picture of citizens waiting in long lines at 5 am for food, unsure if they would have access to ingredients.

As this reality affects parents who struggle to provide for their children, placing them in the care of a foster organization is becoming an increasingly common decision. One mother told the Post that she hoped she would one day be able to collect her children from the agency she was forced to leave them at.

“You don’t know what it’s like to see your children go hungry,” she said. “You have no idea. I feel like I’m responsible, like I’ve failed them.”


Defeat Poverty

In Venezuela, Extreme Hunger Is Forcing Parents to Abandon Their Children

By Andrew McMaster