Youth labour has been an increasing issue worldwide, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Youth are generally defined as the population group between the age of 14 and 25, accounting for the transition from childhood and adulthood. An increase in the demand for youth labour opportunities is mainly attributed to an increase in the population of youth in the region. To compound this issue, families living below the poverty line are unable to rely on the wages of the household’s adults alone, sharing the livelihood responsibility with the youth in the family.

This blog post examines the different factors affecting social protection programmes targeting youth labour in the MENA region. The main insights are provided by the following reports:


Youth targeted social protection programmes

Youth targeted labour and training programmes are essential in supporting the development of countries such as Mauritania, where the number of youth aged under 14 is 40% with a steady projection of a 2.5% increase each year. This continuing trend will see a balloon in the population between 15-24 age group, providing potential for a powerful workforce if harnessed (World Bank Group, 2017).

Training vulnerable youth and getting them ready for work is crucial in developing the economy and keeping the amount of people not in education, employment or training (NEET) to a minimum. Despite many improvements having been made in the MENA region through social protection programmes, research has shown that the region still falls behind other regions in benefiting the poorest of the poor. Social protection programmes targeting youth employment generally favour those who are in areas that are more urban and typically include vocationally or university-trained youth (Cabral, 2017).


Barriers to job creation and youth inclusion:

  • Programme exclusion: Elders, women and children are covered by most of the current social protection programmes available in the MENA region, meaning youth often get left behind.
  • Employability: Current statistics and trends reflect that youth are the most likely to be unemployed amongst all demographics (World Bank Group, 2017). Difficulties in employability are reported by larger companies and businesses, citing difficulties in finding workers who had previous work-related experience and training. Therefore, a greater emphasis has been placed on public work programmes educating those in urban areas with better access to these bigger companies (Cabral, 2017).
  • Education: Education is also a barrier to those living in less urbanised areas. When surveyed, the perceived education by those who did not go to school or formal education is far less than those who went to formal education. They also reported having less work-related skills making them less likely to apply for jobs in the first place (Beazley and Vitali, 2016).
  • Gender: Gender plays a large role in barriers to youth employability for the female population. Typical household roles dictate that females are contribute to household and childrearing duties, preventing them from going accessing education or paid work roles (Cabral, 2017). Lack of access to sanitation and sanitary further compromises female education, forcing them to miss school and making them fall behind. Another major factor is the pressure on young females to get married, cutting short their educational lifespan (Lemmon, 2017).


Solutions provided by social protection programmes

Given the diversity and complexity of the barriers involved, the World Bank (2017) has identified these four integrated approaches for integrating youth into the labour force:

i) improving the school-to-work transition and skills;

ii) facilitating inclusive labour market entry;

iii) enhancing the sustainability and quality of jobs; and

iv) promoting job growth.


The typical approach in the MENA region is twofold:

  1.  Utilising social protection programmes to make education accessible and affordable.
  2. Social protection programmes that encourage entrepreneurship and workforce placement (Beazley and Vitali, 2016).


a. Entrepreneurship

Encouraging entrepreneurship is one way in which the MENA region has tried to increase participation of the youth in the workforce. Equipping youth to come up with their own enterprises has been especially beneficial. Reports show what 22% of youth feel they have the skills to run a business, which is reflected in 20% of youth running their own enterprise in the region. Such activities are diverse, with youth labour programmes encouraging enterprises ranging from agricultural and small-scale farming through to computers and information technology (World Bank Group, 2017).


b. Role models

A role model plays a significant role in reducing the likelihood of youth falling into NEET status. It was found that if the head of the household had an education the youth of the household were far less likely to have a NEET status. Similarly, if the head of the household was a female, then the females in her family were also less likely to have NEET status (Cabral, 2017).


c. Public Work Programmes (PWPs)

Public Work Programmes (PWPs) have been traditionally used to not only provide social protection but also help stimulate local productivity. Unfortunately, most PWPs only provide small short-term employment. To provide beneficial long-term employment opportunities other factors need to be considered. These include providing proper training, equal work opportunities, contributing to the larger economy and wage systems (Beazley and Vitali, 2016).



Being able to provide productive as well as protective programmes is vital to supporting the growth of the youth labor market in the MENA region. Giving context-specific analysis to different factors, such as the female participation rate and education standards between urban and non-urban areas, should enable policymakers to improve social protection programmes in the MENA region. now features programme profiles from the MENA region. To gain insight into existing examples of social protection programmes from the region, click here.



World Bank Group (2017). Mauritania: Transforming the Jobs Trajectory for Affected Youth. Accessible:

Carbral, F. J. (2017). Social Protection: what about young people not in Employment, nor in Education, nor in Training. Institut de Recherche pour le développement, IRD. Accessible:

Beazley, P. and Vitali, A. (2016). Designing public works programmes for protection and growth, the International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth. Accessible:

Lemmon, G. (2017). Improving Women’s Economic Participation in MENA Nations Council on Foreign Relations. Accessible:

Social Protection Programmes: 
  • Labour market / employment programmes
Social Protection Building Blocks: 
  • Policy
    • Laws and Policies
  • Programme implementation
  • Programme design
    • Targeting
Cross-Cutting Areas: 
  • Education
  • Financial education and inclusion
  • Inequalities
  • Labour market / employment
  • Global Development Agenda (SDGs / MDGs)
  • Poverty reduction
  • Resilience
  • Africa
  • Middle East & North Africa
The views presented here are the author's and not's