One in five people in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is an adolescent, offering a window of opportunity to bolster economic and social development of the region. Nevertheless, the MENA region has been unable to develop its human capital to full potential.
Young people, especially young girls, continue to remain socially, economically and politically excluded. The region faces the highest youth unemployment rate in the world, combined with the lowest labour force participation rate. Conflicts, climate change and political instability have further increased the vulnerabilities of young people, exposing them to violence, exploitation and abuse. There is urgency for scaled action for adolescents and youth with respect to health, education, protection as well as social, civic and economic participation.
Key issues affecting the development of young people are:
· Lack of social and civic engagement opportunities
Opportunities for adolescents and youth to actively participate in community and have a voice remain limited. Young people have expressed low sense of belonging to their communities. Adolescent girls are particularly affected as traditional family and social norms often restrict their agency at the family and community, and limit their access to suitable services, opportunities and safe recreational spaces.
· Economic hardship
Sustained economic hardship of households, especially refugees and vulnerable communities, is forcing adolescents and youth to take on financial responsibilities. At the same time, youth unemployment in the MENA region is the highest in the world. There is an urgent need to improve transitions from school to work, reduce skills gap, and generate alternative pathways in education and employment that can support young people, including entrepreneurial thinking and opportunities.
· Limited education
Despite significant progress towards achieving universal primary education and good progress at the secondary level, millions of adolescents continue to drop out of school. Poor quality of education and limited educational opportunities for the most marginalized remain a critical issue, including millions of refugee youth without access to education. Adolescents and youth who are out of school have non-existent opportunities, often falling to idleness and exploitative work. The promise of education as a mean for social mobility is broken at an early stage for these young people.
· Increased Risk of Exploitation, Abuse and Violence
Protracted conflicts in the region have deeply affected the physical and psychological well-being of adolescents and youth. Fragmentation of the social fabric - family and community networks – is exposing them to risky situations and negative coping mechanisms. Displaced adolescents and youth have consistently reported feelings of isolation and hopelessness. Adolescent girls and young women are particularly affected, exposing them to domestic violence, early marriage and mobility restrictions. Rising social tensions among refugees and host communities exposes young people to further risks.
 Since 1999, the number of children enrolled in primary school has increased by 22 per cent. Source: UNESCO 2015.