Promise of youth in MENA
Promise of youth in MENA
The Middle East and North Africa is witnessing an unprecedented “youth boom”, with more than half of the population of the region below the age of 24. A strong growth in fertility rate, peaking at 3% per year in the 1980s and a declining infant and child mortality rate contributed to this trend.
“This demographic phenomenon represents a potential human resource asset for the region, provided the countries concerned have the right strategies, policies and allocate the much-needed resources”, said Sigrid Kaag, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa. “We have to make best use of this window of opportunity now”, she added.
The overall share of youth in MENA is expected to peak at 100 million by 2035, declining thereafter. Currently, one out of five persons in the region is between the ages of 15 and 24, which is the UN Youth bracket.
The “Youth Boom” has yet to be translated into significant human, material and economic gains for youth or for the region as a whole. The Middle East and North Africa has very high rates of unemployment, and its youth account for half of the region’s unemployed. The professional opportunities for women are even less. Unemployment makes youth vulnerable to an array of risks and threats, ranging from poverty to risky behaviour, and from loss of self-esteem to, in certain instances, recourse to extreme violence. This underscores the importance of creating a linkage between the education system and the requirements of the labour market.
Youth integration and participation
Efforts have multiplied in the region lately, to channel the promise of youth into tangible, quality deliverables. Queen Rania al-Abdullah of Jordan, UNICEF’s Eminent Advocate for Children has, amongst one of her many initiatives, spearheaded education reform and encouraged youth focused investment
UNICEF’s contribution to youth participation at global level includes an active role in the Junior 8 (J8) summits, the parallel summits to the G8 event. Girls and boys from Yemen, Algeria and Iraq represented the region in some of the most recent summits, sharing their views and recommendations on regional and world issues.
At regional level, UNICEF contributes to Youth participation and empowerment by, among others, promoting child municipality councils and supporting youth centres. It also coordinates an interactive youth website (http://www.unicef.org/voy/arabic) and entices more involvement between youth and media. UNICEF will, for the first time, be awarding 4 prizes in the categories of TV, Radio, Print and Internet for the best four journalists covering youth issues this year.
UNICEF is also establishing partnerships with the private sector and academic institutions in the region, to ensure better opportunities for the region’s youth.
“Adolescents and youth are agent of change. Their active role and participation at all levels of society will help achieve progress towards the Millennium Development Goals and the Millennium Declaration, Kaag concluded.
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