New Iranian Youth Minister Facing a Formidable Task

Experts say that bifurcation of youth affairs and sports should be the new minister’s priority because the sports section has marginalized youth affairs, and many vital matters concerning the youth have been overlooked
Youth unemployment is highest among university graduates (37%).Youth unemployment is highest among university graduates (37%).

The newly appointed Minister of Sports and Youths Affairs, Masoud Soltanifar, who took office in early November, has pledged to win the trust of the young generation and elicit their active cooperation.

“To achieve this, it is instrumental to draw on global experience in technology to benefit the youth who are at the center of change and development,” the former vice president and former head of the Iran Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization, said in his speech outlining his agenda on Tuesday, reported.

The ministry itself was at the center of a controversy four years ago when sports and youths affairs were merged leading to its establishment. In 2012, MPs voted for the merger and since then, critics have often ruled the merger a failure, stating that the youth department of the ministry needs greater empowerment given the chaotic state of youth affairs.

The merger came into effect even as the Majlis Research Center in its evaluation deemed the plan “inadvisable” and the Majlis Cultural Commission opposed its implementation. They said that youth affairs are interdisciplinary in nature and no organization or ministry will be able to independently manage, while also stressing that granting authority to one single entity “will hinder achieving the objectives and resolving youth problems,” according to

Promises were later made by the government to split youth affairs and sports but not fulfilled. In June 2015, a bill recommending bifurcation of the two entities was proposed to parliament and reviewed at the office of the First Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri, but the majority of lawmakers called for maintaining the status quo. The former minister Mahmoud Goudarzi who resigned on October 18, was a strong proponent of the proposal.

The ministry’s performance was widely criticized not only by the public, but also by state officials. Goudarzi was reprimanded for inadequate action vis-à-vis the youth, and in June last year, his deputy Mahmoud Golzari resigned because the minister “had failed to attend any of the events planned for the National Youth Week (May 28-June 3)”.

Many experts have reiterated that bifurcation of youth affairs and sports should be the new minister’s priority because the sports section of the ministry has marginalized youth affairs, and many vital issues concerning the youth have been overshadowed by those relating to sports.

  Major Challenges

Over the past decade, Iran has experienced a so-called ‘youth bulge’. Today, around 50% of the population is under the age of 30, and the country’s large cohort of people between 15 and 29 makes up around one-third of the population.

Iran’s young population presents an opportunity to accelerate the much-needed socio-economic development. However, the large numbers of youth  also places major strains on educational facilities, the labor market, and social services, creating a need to address the critical issues.

From 1966-2006, the proportion of youth in Iran increased rapidly, with a slight decline from 2006 onwards.  Youth typically live in urban areas and one out of six live in Tehran Province.  In the past two decades, the proportion of youth migration has been between 46-50%, with employment and, to a lesser degree, education, cited as the main reasons for migrating, according to  

Between 1986-2011, the percentage of unmarried young men and women rose from 9.4 to 26.2% (women) and from 18.5% to 40.5% (men).  For every 100 marriages among youth, 16.3% end in divorce, as per official statistics. Observers say the unofficial figures are much higher.

A survey conducted by the Demography Department of the University of Tehran, the Statistical Center of Iran, and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) almost 70% of those unemployed in Iran are young people. Youth unemployment has become one of the nation’s major economic and social challenges, or may be the biggest challenge as successive governments have been unable to create jobs.  One senior official recently warned about the “tsunami of joblessness” but did not provide solutions.

Youth unemployment is highest among university graduates (37%), at 29% for men and 48% for women, and significant provincial differences exist. The rate of economic participation of young men is nearly five times that of young women.

The survey also states that young men aged 15-24 account for 10.6% of registered HIV/AIDS cases and young women account for 15.4%. There is a low level of awareness among youth on HIV/AIDS prevention. Deaths due to accidents (such as traffic collisions) and intentional events (such as suicide and murder) are highest among young people compared to all other age groups, particularly among men. 

  New Agenda

Soltanifar said he would “revitalize” the National High Council for Youths, which has only seen one session since the beginning of the fiscal year in March. The ministry’s budget for the current year is nearly 10 trillion rials ($280 million).

On Wednesday, the deputy minister for organizing youth affairs said that a report on the economic and social status of the youth is in the making, and would be ready for publication by the yearend.

“The report includes facts and figures on all pertinent areas including social, economic, cultural, social harm, leisure and programs, and youth health,” Mohammadreza Rostami told IRNA.

The report, which is the first of its kind, intends to monitor the state of the youth. Parts of the report will be publicized and the rest will be made available to relevant state organizations in order to help with the policy making process based on facts and figures.

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