EFEGuatemala City

Some 800,000 young people in Guatemala neither work nor study, and therefore represent a "risk" to society and to themselves as their unemployment becomes permanent.

That was the alarm sounded in an interview with EFE by Veronica Spross, director of Entrepreneurs for Education, one of the 13 organizations that make up the NGO Latin American Education Network, or Reduca, which is coordinating an international seminar about school dropouts next Tuesday in Guatemala City.

Nine out of every 10 children in this Central American country currently begin elementary school, compared with six out of 10 that did so 25 years ago, but only seven finish sixth grade.

Furthermore, only 46 percent of school-age children make it into high school and a scant 24 percent graduate.

The lack of enough high schools in the country, particularly in rural areas, and the fact that some sectors undervalue the importance of education, are responsible for a large part of Guatemala's dropouts, Spross said.

Some municipalities, like Panzos in Alta Verapaz, have only one high school, which forces many students to travel to other regions, which "has monetary costs for the families," she said.

In the case of teenage girls, many parents prefer to keep them home because "it's enough that they learn basic matters" so that later they can "devote themselves to housekeeping."

The result, according to the director of Entrepreneurs for Education, is that the rate of school dropouts among girls after they finish elementary school is higher than among boys.

Nonetheless, "those who manage to enter high school do very well," she said.

Despite the efforts made in Guatemala in recent years, the fact is that the country has a huge number of "ninis," young people who neither study nor work, an obstacle to their ever finding a job and favoring their exclusion from society, while opening the door to the tentacles of the notorious street gangs.