Southern Yemen erupted again this past week - another flash in an ongoing, low-level rebellion against the government. International news reports have focused on the government’s siege of an alleged al-Qaeda stronghold, occurring against a backdrop of steady anti-government violence throughout the south.
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In an office building in the capital Sanaa 20 young Yemenis sit in a circle, discussing their future. The men and women are all in their twenties, and have university degrees. Despite their enthusiasm and educational achievement, most are unemployed. These graduates of a vocational training programme run by the Yemen Education for Employment Foundation (YEFE) speak optimistically about their hopes of finding personally and financially rewarding employment, but they are also visibly frustrated by their lack of success thus far.
One student with a degree in civil engineering has applied to nearly every engineering firm in the capital, and hasn’t been able to find an internship, much less a job. Having faced repeated rejection, students describe themselves as “destroyed”, “pessimistic”, and “disappointed”.
Maeen al-Eryani, head of YEFE, explains that while the unemployment rate in Yemen is a staggering 35 percent, the reality is even harsher for youth.
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Yemen’s high fertility rate, with an average of 5.4 children born per woman translates into one of the world’s largest population growth rates, at about 3 percent. About a quarter of Yemenis are aged 10-19, suggesting that the unemployment crisis for youth could get even worse in the medium term, and with 46 percent of the population under 16, the long-term picture is equally bleak.
“By 2020 there will have to be two million jobs created just to keep unemployment rates at controllable levels,” said al-Eryani. He said the “youth bulge”, combined with increasing unemployment, could destabilize the country. “Young people with no hope can be very volatile.”
In recent years the “youth bulge” theory has become a more common lens through which social scientists study conflict. In a report for the Council on Foreign Relations, Lionel Beehner wrote that countries with youth bulges “often end up with rampant unemployment and large pools of disaffected youths who are more susceptible to recruitment into rebel or terrorist groups. Countries with weak political institutions are most vulnerable to youth bulge-related violence and social unrest.”