Around 6.5 million of the 117 million children and adolescents in Latin America and the Caribbean do not attend school, the regional office of Unicef said Friday.

Another 15.6 million youngsters currently in school may find themselves forced to drop out, according to the Unicef report, Completing School: A Right to Grow, a Shared Duty.

Kids who start school late and others placed in a grade lower than the appropriate one for their age are most at risk of not completing their education, the researchers found.

Girls, people of indigenous or African descent, children who live in rural areas and youngsters who have to combine school with work are also at a marked disadvantage, Unicef said.

Nearly 2 million of the region's children old enough to start school do not attend classes, while 9 million of those who are in school are two or more grades behind where they should be.

In half of the countries studied, fewer than half of rural teenagers are attending high school.

The Unicef report cites data from 2008 showing that 10 percent of Latin American and Caribbean youngsters between the ages of 5 and 17 are in some kind of paid employment and says students who work score as much as 22 points lower than their non-working classmates on standardized tests.

More than 50 percent of schools in Nicaragua lack running water and a third of the schools across the region don't have adequate bathroom facilities.

Half the schools in Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Mexico and Peru have libraries. That proportion rises to more than 60 percent in Argentina, Cuba, Chile, Guatemala and Uruguay.

On average, Latin American and Caribbean nations devote just over 14.4 percent of total public spending - or 4.5 percent of gross domestic product to education.

The comparable figures for developed Western countries are 12.4 percent and 5.3 percent, respectively, Unicef said. EFE