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Feed my children, teacher tells state

ARGENTINA

A primary teacher in Argentina is fighting a court battle to force provincial authorities to help feed her children because they have failed to pay her salary.

The cash-strapped authorities are likely to fight the test case, for fear of being deluged by other parents they employ asking for extra state hand-outs.

Every week children in this once wealthy nation die from starvation, mostly in the poorer provinces that border Bolivia and Paraguay. Five years of economic freefall have created social conditions worse than in America's Great Depression.

Maria Ines Pacheco, of No.185 Alvarez Condarco school in the city of Parana, could be considered one of the lucky ones, because she has a job and is not reduced to begging or scavenging. But like 42,000 other teachers in Entre Rios province she has not been paid since December. When she noticed three of her six children, five-year-old triplets, were losing weight, she decided to act. Her six and seven-year-olds, also showed signs of malnutrition. Health workers recommended an unprecedented step: a court order obliging authorities to help feed them.

Ms Pacheco earns 600 pesos a month, which is worth just pound;100 compared with pound;383 a year ago. However, due to maladministration and fraud many local authorities lack funds to pay workers. Often they pay months in arrears and partly in bonds worth less than their face value that are not always accepted by shops. Ms Pacheco receives half of her salary in such bonds.

Ms Pacheco's husband, Enrique Grandoli, has been unemployed for five years and gets benefits of just pound;25 a month.

A survey shows 64 per cent of teachers in the province are the sole breadwinner in their households with, on average, four or five people dependent on them.

Ms Pacheco will appeal to the high court if she loses her case.

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