Without improved education and meaningful work opportunities in the Middle East and North Africa, the region faces a critical risk of an unprecedented increase of 5 million out-of-school children, and a more-than 10 percent rise in youth unemployment by 2030, according to a new UNICEF report.
Batool, a 20-year-old from Jordan who was interviewed for the MENA Generation 2030 report, is one of millions of children and young people that the UN’s children’s welfare body says are struggling to learn and prosper.
"I started my last year of high school with great enthusiasm and even greater dreams. However, all I experienced was failure. I isolated myself and stopped studying until I started volunteering. That changed my life. I became a new person, optimistic and always looking for new opportunities,” she says.
MENA Generation 2030 is the first report to make a direct link between investment in children, economic growth and social development.
It is a result of the consultations with the World Bank, the International Labour Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (ESCWA).
According to the report, children and young people currently account for nearly half of the region’s population.
The MENA region also has the highest youth unemployment rates in the world, and a regional average of up to 40 percent unemployment among young women.
The region is also home to more than half of the world’s refugees, with more than one third of youth living in fragile and conflict affected countries.
Young people in the region feel a deterioration in the quality of life in the last decade and only half of them have confidence in their own governments, the report states.
Nearly 15 million children are out of school due to a combination of poverty, discrimination, poor quality learning, violence in schools and armed conflict.
Among children who are in school, only half meet the benchmark measuring skills for reading, mathematics and science.
“We are at a serious risk of not meeting the Sustainable Development Goals in the MENA region, with devastating consequences on children and young people,” says Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF’s regional director for the Middle East and North Africa.
“The only way out is through the implementation and budgeting of policies for children, ending violence and armed conflict, having a politically and socially stable environment, and promoting gender equality,” he said.
The report outlines common areas for governments, the private sector and young people themselves to work on.
It recommends increasing financing for early childhood development including adequate health, nutrition and responsive stimulation to build the foundation of children’s physical, emotional and cognitive development.
Basic education should be improved, and there should be preparation in the skills needed to match the rapidly changing economy. Skills vital for the future include creativity, critical thinking, communication and empathy.
Children and young people also need spaces to raise their concerns, share their ideas and engage with the decision-making process, the report argues.
Young people transitioning from education to employment also need more support, it states.