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Last Updated: 11/04/2003Breeding Trouble
International Crisis Group
In a world where many people expect progress with each generation, most of the young Central Asia are worse off than their parents. They have higher rates of illiteracy, unemployment, poor health, and drug use, and they are more likely to be victims and perpetrators of violence. The Central Asian states need to confront grim realities in education and labour opportunities if they are to turn the next generation away from socially destructive alternatives.
Youth in Central Asia: Losing the New Generation
The International Crisis Group’s new report, Youth in
In a world where many people expect progress with each generation, most of the young in this region are worse off than their parents. They have higher rates of illiteracy, unemployment, poor health, and drug use, and they are more likely to be victims and perpetrators of violence. The Central Asian states need to confront grim realities in education and labour opportunities if they are to turn the next generation away from socially destructive alternatives.
In contrast to the relatively high educational standards of the Soviet era, the region now suffers from underpaid teachers, poorly maintained schools, and rampant corruption that has devalued qualifications. Most young people with limited schooling end up in casual labour or subsistence agriculture, though work is hard to find even for the educated: the best jobs go to those with connections, not qualifications.
Frustrated to despair, most dream of simply leaving their country. Illegal migrants become easy targets for human trafficking, forced drug-smuggling and prostitution, and deadly work accidents abroad. And the extent of migration overall means that, in the long term, the region is losing its future. “Instead of a new generation with new ideas coming to power, the best and the brightest are leaving”, says David Lewis. “Those left behind are less equipped to handle a complex world than were their parents”.
For those who remain, an increasing number seek solutions through the alternatives of religion, violence, and extremism. Radical Islamist groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir have been successful in recruiting disillusioned youth. The governments’ efforts to fight religious extremism have failed.
There is, however, still enough human potential in
“It is not too late to tackle these issues, but decisive action must be taken before people lose hope”, says David Lewis.
Jennifer Leonard (Washington) +1-202-785 1601
*Read the report in full on our website: http://www.crisisweb.org/
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS
More international involvement is needed in all spheres of youth activity in
Central Asian states inherited widespread literacy and relatively high educational standards from the
Most young people with limited schooling end up in casual labour or subsistence agriculture. Work is hard to find even for the educated, while
It is not surprising that young people increasingly seek solutions outside mainstream society through alternative options of religion, violence, extremism or migration.
Religion serves both as an escape from everyday problems and a channel through which to criticise the present system. Radical Islamist groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir have been successful in recruiting the disillusioned, providing simplistic answers to questions about the grim reality of their lives. Equal numbers have moved away from Islam to new Christian churches that offer a Western-oriented alternative.
Crime, whether in the forms of drug abuse, prostitution or gang membership, is affecting the health and life expectancy of young people. The number injecting drugs has been growing rapidly, accompanied by a sharp rise in HIV infection. Governments have been slow to react, and often do not fully acknowledge the risks.
Two thirds of young people say they want to leave the region, and a growing number do migrate, mostly to
Responding to the demands of young people means giving them a say in how things are run and understanding that they will challenge the present generation of leaders. But most Central Asian governments regard young people as a group to be controlled rather than included. Their views are neglected in decisions on education, employment and crime. The most extreme response has come in
Quality bilingual education is essential to promote integration of ethnic minorities and access to political and economic power. Greater efforts to reduce obstacles to business development and the economic exploitation of young people are needed, particularly in
Efforts by Central Asian governments to eradicate religious extremism through heavy-handed security policies have failed, and there is a danger that state restrictions on religious expression will only increase the attractiveness of underground and fringe movements. Governments should adopt a policy of greater openness by allowing wider and better Islamic education and should also improve knowledge of Islam among religious and government officials.
Governments must recognise the extent of drug consumption and allow an open discussion on the issue, include parents in the debate and promote needle exchange and methadone use. Likewise, the HIV/AIDS pandemic must be publicly acknowledged, and education prioritised.
Given the contribution migrants make to the GDP of most Central Asian states, it would be only fair that governments enhance their protection through risk awareness campaigns and provide better support in
Donors have too often been happy to propose quick fixes such as school reconstruction and new computers without the necessary follow-up and conditioning of aid to changes in teaching standards, real access to decision-making for youth, a greater will to fight discrimination and introduction of open discourse on religion. Considerable financial and political commitments are needed to improve the situation of young people, but the pay-off in future stability would be in the interests not just of
Osh/Brussels, 31 October 2003