A couple wanted on child abuse charges surrendered to authorities a month after a 10-year-old girl in their care was removed from their home weighing only 29 pounds.

The malnourished girl was locked in her bedroom for days at a time and fed only milk, nutritional drinks and a spoonful of food three times a day, Hernando County (search) sheriff's investigators said Friday.

The girl's 14-year-old brother sneaked her extra food under her door two or three times a week, investigators said. She was given a paint bucket to use as a toilet.

"It was like the pictures you see for hunger relief fund ads of malnourished children in a Third World country," sheriff's Lt. Joseph Paez said. "It was a real disturbing thing."

The National Center for Health Statistics (search) says healthy 10-year-old girls should weigh from 53 to 106 pounds.

State child-protection workers acting on a complaint removed the girl May 18.

Arthur Thomas Allain Jr. (search), 46, and Lori Allain, 47, were arrested Thursday and released after posting $20,000 bail each on abuse and neglect charges.

The Allains are non-relative caregivers of the children, which means they do not receive payments from the state like foster parents, but are subjected to the same regulations. They dispute the charges.

"I'm absolutely livid," Lori Allain said in a telephone interview Saturday. "I really feel it's retaliatory from the Hernando County Sheriff's department."

Allain said her family has been harassed by the sheriff's department since her children were involved in a scuffle with deputies in January.

The siblings went to live with the Allains after the state terminated their mother's parental rights in 1999. The Allains, who were friends of the family, allegedly began denying the girl food in January 2001.

The Allains and the girl told investigators she had an eating disorder that made her vomit. But health care workers said she has no physical or psychological problems and has been gaining weight with proper nutrition.

Court papers indicate the girl's growth and development began to decline six months after moving in with the Allains. Allain, however, said the girl weighed only 22 pounds and wore clothes for an 18-month-old when she came to live with the family in 2000.

Allain said the three spoonfuls of food the girl referred to were actually large, industrial-sized ladles. "I guarantee it would be more than you would get on a regular hospital tray," she said.

Allain said the girl's door was locked at night because her brother had been sneaking into her room and threatening her. The girl was given the family's camping toilet — a bucket with a toilet seat — in case she needed to relieve herself, she said.