PUNTO FIJO, Venezuela (Reuters) - Struggling to feed herself and her seven children, Venezuelan mother Zulay Pulgar asked a neighbor in October to take over care of her six-year-old daughter, a victim of a pummeling economic crisis.
The family lives on Pulgar's father's pension, worth $6 a month at the black market rate, in a country where prices for many basic goods are surpassing those in the United States.
"It's better that she has another family than go into prostitution, drugs or die of hunger," the 43-year-old unemployed mother said, sitting outside her dilapidated home with her five-year-old son, father and unemployed husband.
With average wages less than the equivalent of $50 a month at black market rates, three local councils and four national welfare groups all confirmed an increase in parents handing children over to the state, charities or friends and family.
The government does not release data on the number of parents giving away their children and welfare groups struggle to compile statistics given the ad hoc manner in which parents give away children and local councils collate figures.
Still, the trend highlights Venezuela's fraying social fabric and the heavy toll that a deep recession and soaring inflation are taking on the country with the world's largest oil reserves.
Showing photos of her family looking plumper just a year ago, Pulgar said just one chicken meal would now burn up half its monthly income. Breakfast is often just bread and coffee, with rice alone for both lunch and dinner.
Nancy Garcia, the 54-year-old neighbor who took in the girl, Pulgar's second-youngest child, works in a grocery store and has five children of her own. She said she could not bear to see Pulgar's child going without food.
"My husband, my children and I teach her to behave, how to study, to dress, to talk... She now calls me 'mom' and my husband 'dad,'" said Garcia. READ MORE