Youth Development in Mena Cities: A Crisis and an Opportunity

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Currently the population of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region exceeds 432 million people in 2007, half of them children and youth under 24 years of age. The region has the youngest population of any region in the world, and the second highest urbanization rate with an annual urban growth rate of 4% in the past two decades, second only to Sub-Saharan Africa. Over half the populations of Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq are under 25 years old, while over 60 percent of Pakistan and Afghanistan’s populations are under 25 years old. Over the last few decades, school enrolment rates have risen markedly throughout the region for both young men and women. Yet, the recently released Arab Human Development Report finds that youth unemployment presents the biggest challenge to all Arab countries, which have nearly double the global rate. A projected 51 million new jobs will have to be created by 2020 to absorb youth into the labor force. Unemployment also often affects women more than men, with unemployment rates for Arab women being higher than those for Arab men, and among the highest in the world. Data from 2005 shows that the youth unemployment rate for men was 25 percent compared to 31.2 per cent for women. In the region, the female youth unemployment went from a high of approximately 59 per cent in Jordan, compared to 35 per cent for males, to a low of 5.7 per cent in UAE, compared to a male unemployment rate of 6.4 per cent.

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