Caracas, Venezuela – With the food shortage seriously escalating over the last few months in Venezuela, criminals have thought out a new place to steal from: public schools.
In the past two months, the National Federation of Parents (Fenasopadres) received more than 25 reports of break-ins in schools around the country in which thieves took non-perishable food items from the pantries.
The thieves come after dark and the robbery is usually discovered the next morning, which means no food for hundreds of kids that day – or perhaps that week.
“Most schools don’t have any kind of surveillance despite the many requests we have made to the authorities,” Alexander Ramírez, a representative of Fenasopadres, told Fox News Latino.
With the food scarcity index currently at 82 percent, according to local polling firm Datanalisis, groceries and anything edible have become a precious commodity.
“They steal anything that is available, from wheat for the arepas to butter, milk and vegetables,” Ramírez told FNL.
Most of these products’ prices are government-regulated, which is why they become scarce — it creates a black market where groceries are sold at a higher price, translating into a lucrative business for those people call “bachaqueros.”
“We think they take some food for personal use, but most of it is sold at a higher price,” Ramírez said.
This situation is particularly critical for some children whose nutrition depends almost entirely on the food that they receive at school, given the severity of the economic crisis at home.
In a recent survey, among 2,581 sixth-grade students and 148 teachers from the state of Miranda, which includes part of Caracas, 69 percent said that they are eating less because there is no food in their homes.
According to the survey, conducted last week by Miranda state, 21 percent of the kids said they usually eat at school; 27 percent of the children revealed that school meals had been their sole food source at least one day in the previous week.
As many as 86 percent of the sixth-graders surveyed said they are worried about the possibility of running out of food in their homes.
“The situation is really dramatic. Teachers said that some students have fainted in the middle of a class because of how poorly fed they are,” Ramírez told FNL.
In the Miranda poll, 66.9 percent of the teachers admitted that they believe their students’ health is worse because of the reduced amount of food they are getting.
The survey also showed that children are not receiving the basic diet recommended for their age bracket.
More than 65 percent of those surveyed said that in the previous week they hadn’t had access to milk, cereals, ham or meat. Most of them had been fed rice or arepas, a local dish made of ground maize dough or cooked flour.
“The food served at schools was better in the past. Students used to receive milk every day with their breakfast. Now sometimes they only get a cracker,” Ramírez said.
Despite schools being a somewhat reliable food provider, the widespread scarcity is affecting attendance as well.
The survey showed that 55 percent of the children said they had missed school at least once to stand in a food line with their parents, while 58 percent of the teachers admitted that they had taken days off to shop for groceries.
This year’s school attendance in Miranda has been the lowest since 2011.
Franz von Bergen is a freelancer reporter living in Caracas.