About 20 percent of Latin Americans between the ages of 12 and 18 do not attend school, according to a report released here Monday by the U.N. Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean and the regional office of Unicef.

"Practically all 11-year-old children are in school in the countries of Latin America, but for 17-year-olds half have already left the system and only one in three completes high school without falling behind," the document says.

Dealing with both the causes and consequences of this situation "requires specific policies with a perspective on rights and gender equality," ECLAC and Unicef said.

"Just one in every five young people in the low-income quintile completes high school, while in the richest quintile four out of every five do so," the report emphasizes.

In addition, the study found that male teenagers tend to enter the job market early and almost a fifth of them leave the educational system due to lack of interest.

Moreover, teenage girls also leave school due to lack of interest, but to a lesser extent, to attend to unpaid housework and the work of child care, sometimes for kids of their own.

"Teenagers are and will be the protagonists of the great social and economic transformations that are expected to occur in the coming decades in the region, and for that they need to exercise their rights fully and without any kind of discrimination," the executive secretary of ECLAC, Alicia Barcena, and the director of the regional Unicef office for Latin America and the Caribbean, Bernt Aasen, said. EFE