The most favourable demographic dividend period for MENA is between now and 2040, when an unprecedentedly large proportion of its population will transition into their most productive years and the dependency ratio is predicted to be the lowest.
This temporary lowering of the dependency ratio of the population has the potential to increase shared wealth and facilitate an expansion of opportunities for all – but only under certain conditions, said UNICEF in its report ‘MENA Generation 2030’.
Children and young people (aged 0-24 years) in MENA currently account for nearly half of the region’s population and have the potential to become agents of change, acting for a more prosperous and stable future and playing their part in reaping the demographic dividend. But unleashing this potential requires urgent and significant investment to create opportunities for meaningful learning, social engagement and work, all of which are currently limited, particularly for young women and the most vulnerable.
Due to a rapidly growing elderly population across the region, the window of opportunity to benefit from the demographic dividend will begin to close in the second half of the century, the report said.
A favourable age structure is essential. Other prerequisites for realising a demographic dividend include political and social stability; inclusive and equitable economic and social policies; and expanded employment opportunities.
In particular, the cost of conflict and violence in MENA is enormous and exposes children, adolescents and youth to the risk of death and injury, violence at home and school, lack of access to education, uncertainty and loss of investment, especially in human capital. These and other factors contribute to the region achieving the world’s lowest level of youth civic engagement – a key driver of instability in its own right.
Education systems are also failing to prepare adolescents and youth for the workplace, and markets are not generating urgently needed jobs.
The report noted that adolescents and youth across MENA feel a sense of disillusionment, and frustration at the many barriers they face to effective learning and engagement with their communities and the workplace.
Yet participatory research revealed that these same adolescents and youth remain hopeful that their reality will change and are keen to engage positively in changing that reality.
Urgent policy actions are needed, said the report, adding that it is vital that all governments, donors, practitioners, UN agencies and those with an interest in the future of the region play their part in fulfilling these hopes. Priorities will be determined by each country’s age structure, depending on whether they are at the pre-dividend, early-dividend or late-dividend stage. M