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Children find brighter futures off the streets

Colombia, March 1, 2012

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Miguel Samper/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Mercy Corps offers a fun, informal environment for 5,000 children ages 7 to 17 who are at risk of working instead of learning. Children play games, get help on homework, do science experiments, tackle art projects, and complete academic worksheets. Photo: Miguel Samper/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Miguel Samper/Mercy Corps  </span>
    We work with children from broken homes in neighborhoods with high rates of violence, poverty, and delinquency. Some are children of sex workers; a few have been sexually exploited themselves. Photo: Miguel Samper/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Miguel Samper/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Thirteen-year-old Johanna lives in a small apartment with her parents and eight brothers and sisters. Before attending Spaces to Grow, she hawked fruit in the streets with her mother. Her father is a recycler. "I wasn’t coming to class, I wasn’t doing my homework because I didn’t have time. This is better." Photo: Miguel Samper/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Miguel Samper/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Students in Bogota attend school either in the morning or the afternoon. Spaces to Grow has sessions at both times, so students can attend when they aren't in class. Photo: Miguel Samper/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Miguel Samper/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Eight-year-old Dayana sold candies in the street with her her mom. “I like being here better because I can learn.” She wants to grow up to be a singer, a doctor or a family lawyer. Photo: Miguel Samper/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Miguel Samper/Mercy Corps  </span>
    An independent study of the program showed that participating students improved their academic performance, attendance rates and passing rate in formal school up to or beyond the goals of the program. Photo: Miguel Samper/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Miguel Samper/Mercy Corps  </span>
    The study also showed that parents of participating students displayed "more positive attitudes" toward education and more reluctance to engage them in child labor. Photo: Miguel Samper/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Miguel Samper/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Ana likes that her 12-year-old, Diana, stays busy and gets helps with her homework. "The streets aren't good for her," says Ana, who works two jobs while her husband is in jail. Photo: Miguel Samper/Mercy Corps

Espacios para Crecer, or Spaces to Grow, uses education to fight child labor in Bogotá's most impoverished neighborhoods.

Children in Colombia are at an even greater risk of leaving school for dangerous and illegal low-paying work to support their desperate families who have fled violence from the country's drawn-out internal conflict. Girls are particularly vulnerable to child labor because they have lower matriculation rates and are more susceptible to sexual exploitation.


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