A range of studies and surveys reveal that Iraqi youth face many challenges. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), together with the Government of Iraq, conducted a National Youth Survey in 2009 that provided the first comprehensive insight into the reality of being a young person in today’s Iraq.
The United Nations, the Central Organization for Statistics, and the Kurdistan Region Statistics Office also produced the Iraq Knowledge Network Survey in 2011 which provides specific information on youth attitudes and issues.
These surveys reveal some startling statistics. Of those youth aged between 15 and 24 years old at the time of the survey, only 56.9% felt optimistic about the future. At the same time, only 52.3% in this same age group were supportive of the idea of women going out to work. Almost 50% of these young people said that youth have no trust in politics. Almost 17% of young Iraqis expressed a strong desire to emigrate.
Iraq is facing a ‘youth bulge’ a demographic term applied to countries where the vast majority of the population is young. In Iraq, the number of young people entering their reproductive years and the labour force is expected to increase significantly between 2011 and 2015, creating both an opportunity and a challenge to Iraq’s society and economy.
Conflict has significantly limited young people’s educational and employment opportunities in Iraq. The enrolment ratio in intermediate education is barely 40 percent; for secondary education it is less than 30 percent. The illiteracy rate is high, and the unemployment rate for both sexes combined is estimated at about 30 percent.
Adolescent girls are worse off than boys in every respect. There is a high probability that girls will be married before their 18th birthday without their consent. Girls’ freedom of movement is much more restricted.
In terms of participation, only 40 percent of youth perceive the value of taking part in social and political life. Youth in Iraq are also exposed to risky health behaviour, with only 46 percent of youth able to identify the ways in which HIV/AIDS is transmitted, and only 26 percent able to recognize means of protection. There has also been an alarming increase in drug and substance abuse.
(Source: United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq)