Martha, 16, spots missionary Ronald Villalobos walking late-afternoon rounds through downtown San José's seedy "Coca-Cola" district. She shuffles across a break in traffic and greets him with a kiss on his thick-bearded cheek. Matted black hair frames her delicate face, smeared in the same grime that covers her hands and baggy clothing. "Will you buy me lunch?" she asks, hanging on his arm. As she and the missionary head toward a diner, Angie, 14, joins them. She too is dirty and hungry and hopes Villalobos, of Christ for the City International (CFCI), can help her.Christian ministries such as CFCI are rescuing street children with the Costa Rican government's blessing and without concealing their faith.Martha and Angie, both crack addicts, live on the streets of San José. Angie has never attended school and survives through begging. But without intervention, Angie seems certain to suffer the same fate as Martha, who pays for illicit drugs with money from prostitution and theft.One-quarter of Costa Rica's street children are young girls, according to Ana de Lara of Casa Alianza, a San José-based Catholic outreach to Central America's street children. Casa Alianza's campaign against child prostitution has renewed attention to the grim side of this Central American country, often celebrated for its stable government and relative prosperity.

Getting the Street Out

Costa Rica's National Child Trust, known as PANI, gives a tenth of its $11.3 million budget to nongovernmental organizations that help children, says PANI director Marlene Gómez. Last year, PANI contracted the Salvation Army to help San José's street children. Most such programs target boys, and often do not address the specific needs of young girls.Abuse at home, not ...

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