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Youth in Central Asia: Losing the New Generation

Osh/Brussels, 31 October 2003: Central Asian governments have all but abandoned an entire generation of young people. In a region where around half the population is under 30, such an approach can only bring increased risks of political instability and conflict.

The International Crisis Group’s new report, Youth in Central Asia: Losing the New Generation,* argues current trends must be reversed if the region is to avoid creating a volatile lost generation. More international involvement is needed in all spheres of youth activity, and Central Asian governments must listen to young people and address the persistent lack of opportunities they face in order to stem the decline in their welfare that is leading to serious economic and political problems.

“Most Central Asian governments regard young people as a group to be controlled rather than included”, says David Lewis, Central Asia Project Director at ICG. “Policymakers pay them little attention”.

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 Central Asia to reverse trends, if governments work with their young people and the international community to bring about improvements in education and corresponding economic reforms to provide real opportunities for the coming generation.

“It is not too late to tackle these issues, but decisive action must be taken before people lose hope”, says David Lewis.

Contacts: Andrew Stroehlein (Brussels) +32 (0) 485 555 946
Jennifer Leonard (Washington) +1-202-785 1601
To contact ICG media please click here
*Read the report in full on our website: http://www.crisisweb.org/

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