Editor’s Note: The author of this essay, Mujtaba Safi was born in Kabul in 1991. He completed his secondary education at Ghalam Mohammad Farhad High School in 2010. Currently he is studying Computer Science at Maiwand University in Kabul. Mujtaba believes that youth education and employment opportunities are important for building a peaceful future in Afghanistan. He believes that working to develop peace is the most important goal for members of the younger generation. Writing in English, Safi shares his perspective on youth unemployment and why it needs to be addressed to ensure that this goal can be reached.
Unemployment is one of the biggest challenges facing the Afghan people, particularly members of the younger generation. We are a young country. Around 68 percent of the country’s population of some 31 million people is under the age of 25, of which 40 percent are 15 to 24 years of age, according to a World Population Prospects study.1 This is a generation of Afghans who have the potential to build a stronger future for our country, and yet many are finding their employment prospects limited.
Afghanistan’s economy has improved tremendously since the Taliban were driven out in 2001, and the per capita income in Afghanistan has grown from $115 in 2001 to $687 in 2013 in current US dollars, according to the World Bank. During that same time, however, the youth unemployment rate has remained high. That means that average income for all Afghans has increased for 597% in 12 years, which is especially impressive given that the country has been in a state of war during this period. This is a positive change, but unemployment has remained persistently high, with young people disproportionately affected by unemployment. While statistics on unemployment in Afghanistan are not completely reliable, it is certainly true that a large population of young Afghan men and women have not benefitted from the country’s economic growth. According to the International Labor Organization, “Afghanistan’s economy and jobs are not growing enough to absorb the annual 400,000 new labor market entrants. The 2007/2008 National Risk and Vulnerability Assessment (NRVA) reported high pockets of unemployment rates among youth, with 10 per cent for young men and 15 per cent for young women.2” Another study puts the unemployment rate among young men even higher, around 18 percent for those aged 15-24 who are available for work and seeking employment.3
For younger people like me who live in Afghanistan, this issue is impossible to ignore. One of the more obvious problems is a lack of infrastructure to support new job opportunities. In part this can be blamed on the government. Politicians themselves have stated that, “The Ministry of Labour and Social affairs has not made efforts to reduce unemployment rates in the country. [The Ministry] has said that lack of sufficient budget and also inattention of international community to build infrastructures caused a rise in unemployment.4“ Another related issue is that much of the Afghan economy is underdeveloped, with many families (especially those in rural areas) depending on the agricultural sector for their income. According to the UNDP, “60 percent of the employed workforce are working in low-productivity and subsistence-type production.5“ Many of these jobs do not provide a stable source of income, and do not promote a strong national economy. Youth are particularly likely to be employed in low-skill or informal jobs, making them vulnerable to changes in the economy or other conditions, such as drought, which have impacted Afghanistan in recent years.
The Creation of Social Problems
When young jobseekers see no opportunities, they feel hopeless and insecure. This kind of feeling is widespread in the younger generation, and leads to social instability. In the cities, some unemployed Afghan youths turn to gambling and drugs, while others may simply loiter in public areas. Lack of suitable employment may lead young people, particularly young men, to turn to the illicit opium economy or to participate in insurgencies and jihadist groups. It is well known here that unemployment and poverty provide ripe opportunities for insurgent groups to recruit people into fighting and illegal activities. This threatens to undermine the security situation in the country even further.
The many years of war in Afghanistan have created a yearning for peace among its people. Now it is time to make that peace a lasting reality. As future leaders of the country, Afghan youths have a very important role to play in advancing peace in Afghanistan. They can only accomplish this if they have opportunities to enter into the job market.
Even as the youth are struggling with unemployment, there is promise for a better economic situation for young people. Our best hope is education, starting with primary education, and there is every reason to believe that the situation is improving. According to the United Nations’ International Institute for Educational Planning, “In 2001, just 1 million primary school age children were enrolled [in Afghan primary schools], with girls accounting for a tiny fraction. By 2008, 6 million children were in school, including 2.3 million girls.6” Through education, youth can acquire the skills that will increase their chances of secure employment in growing sectors of the economy, such as the service sector. Education will also allow them to create positive goals for their own lives, and in the process encourage others as well to study and pursue positive goals for themselves.
A top priority for the government should be to continue advancing educational opportunities to those who have been denied these opportunities. Girls and young women, particularly those in rural areas, still have minimal access to education. I think the government could also be helpful by supporting sustainable economic opportunities, which might include microcredit and offering incentives for entrepreneurship and small business, allowing young people to enter the economy.
Now is the time to make peace a lasting reality. As future leaders of the country, Afghan youths have a very important role to play in peacemaking in Afghanistan. In my opinion, the best way they can do this is by participating in a stable workforce that will provide a better alternative to war for the large generation of young Afghans.