Portugal’s Chicken Girl

Portugal was shocked to hear the story of Maria Isabel Quaresma Dos Santos. This nine year old girl spent her entire childhood in a chicken coop. She was deprived of all human interaction and affection.  Isabel became known as ”Chicken Girl” throughout Portugal in the 1980s.

She was born on a farm in Tábua, Portgual’s district of Coimbra on July 6th, 1970. When she was merely one year old, her mother locked her away in the chicken coop, as she did not consider her to be apart of the family.  Her mother was later on diagnosed with severe mental problems.

Maria Isabel spent the following 8 years of life in this place, surrounded by only chickens and living off of the very same food as the birds, cabbage leaves, grains and sometimes other leftovers that the family would feed the chickens.

Her older brothers somehow did not share the same story as her. They lived rather normal lives, sleeping in the same home as their family and attending school.

Everyone in the area knew about the girl who was living in the chicken coop, but no one ever took action and did something about it. People were more focused on working the fields, and did not bother to get themselves involved into the matters of others.

Her story only made it to the newspapers in January of 1980. However in 1976 she had the chance to escape, with one of her aunts filing a complaint against her parents.  She was diagnosed with severe disabilities by doctors and was told she needed to be hospitalized. However there were institutions that were ready to take her, so she was forced to return back to her family.

Only in 1980 did a radiology technician expose her case to the media did things start to move. The technician took the girl to her home for two weeks, and then realized she would need even more help. She contacted several journalists, hoping to raise awareness about the girl’s situation.

Portugal’s First Lady at the time, Manuela Eanes, arranged for Isabel to be given the rehabilitation that she needed at a center in Lisbon.  Maria Isabel couldn’t even cry because she never had any contact with humans.

Reports also recounted that Maria Isabel in fact mimicked chicken behavior. She constantly moved her arms and took very small steps.  She did not speak, and could only make vague cackles.  Although she was nearly ten years old, her brain was at the level of a two year old’s.

Even a decade later, Maria Isabel still shows behaviors of a chicken.  At the age of 27, she was finally able to move by herself, and has become less aggressive.  She’s been living in a medical facility for the past 16 years.

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