Maria del Carmen is 6 years old and weighs 6 kilograms — just over 13 pounds. In her home, eating is no longer routine. Her family is hungry, and it shows.
The last time the girl was put on a scale was in December. Her relatives say she weighed 10 kilos in November but then dropped to six and suffers from severe malnutrition.
Her mother abandoned her in her grandmother's house alongside her four siblings — two other girls who are 8 and 5, and two boys who are 4 and 2.
Katiuska Chourio, the mother's aunt, said that the mother had taken her five children away but Maria del Carmen got sick and was taken to the Chiquinquira Hospital. She was hospitalized for a month in a ward for malnutrition cases and contracted meningitis while there.
“After that she brought the five children, left them here and she went to live in Colombia with another man,” said Chourio.
Venezuela is facing food and medicine shortages and looting as the South American country’s economy continues to crumble under the leadership of President Nicolás Maduro.
Maria del Carmen’s family tries to feed her with baby bottles, making purees with plantains, squash or yucca.
But the grandmother in the family, Zoraya Fuenmayor, said: “We don't have the money to feed Maria del Carmen with a baby bottle. … Two foundations help us, but now they can't help us because they are not getting any donations.”
The World Health Organization says a 6-year-old should weigh 19.91 kilos — more than three times what Maria del Carmen weighs.
The house where the girl lives — in a suburb of Maracaibo, Venezuela's second largest city — has three rooms. Twenty-one people live there — 11 children and teenagers and 10 adults.
The tin roof has holes so big that the place floods when it rains. There's a 14-inch TV set that doesn't work all that well, and no fans or refrigerator — real problems because temperatures can hit more than 100 degrees.
It's not just Maria del Carmen who is hungry. The rest of the family eats only every other day, and then only one meal that day.
Three of the siblings were pulled out of school because the family cannot afford their lunches.
Chourio, the 40-year-old aunt, has an engineering degree and won a scholarship 10 years ago, but has never worked in her field. “I am the one that has to take care of the children and the house,” she said. “And take care of my mother, who is 79 years old and has Parkinson's, glaucoma and severe arthritis.”
Only two of the 10 adults in the house have jobs, one in construction and one mending shoes.
“Now we're tighter because the shoemaker has not worked for two months and has not been able to help us,” said Chourio. “My brother lucked into a little job and that's how more or less we're buying the food for Maria del Carmen.”
For the past three days they have eaten only yuca, a cheap, potato-like tuber, once a day. The children get a dab of butter added to their portions.
They no longer believe in the promises of the government. Food boxes provided under a subsidized government program known as CLAP stopped arriving six months ago. On the day of the election of a pro-government National Constituent Assembly in July, they received coupons worth 500,000 bolivares, which they used to buy food for two days.