The roots of youth angst are cemented in grim facts. Young people between the ages of fifteen and twenty nine make up thirty five percent of Iran’s population, the largest youth sector in the world. And seventy percent of them are unemployed - one in four men, and double that for women - even if they have a university degree.
This is the baby boom generation, urged into existence by Ayatollah Khomeini, now asking his successors for jobs. There aren’t enough. The government can only create 300,000 jobs a year, but one million are needed. And traditionally the older workers are looked after. They are not forced to make way for new entrants. So, the young just have to wait.
No jobs means the young can’t marry or leave home, especially in some cities like Tehran where there has been a property boom since 2005. In just a few years some properties more than doubled in price. So today, men and especially women are delaying marriage, so one in two in their late twenties are still unmarried and living with their parents.
As for politics, people were told rather bluntly last year not to disagree with their political leaders. Youths engaged in street demonstrations against President Ahmadinejad, faced violence. Some met blows on the street, and witnessed the killing of many, including twenty-six-year-old Nada Agha Sultan, was shot dead. Many more were arrested and suffered in prison.
No jobs, no spouse, no marriage and no political voice - these are the raw ingredients of youth frustration; made worse by the lack of personal freedom, the intermittent fashion wars - dictating head dress for girls, hair cuts for men – and readiness to clamp down on any entertainment out of tune with the sober tones of the government. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that Iran’s young are well educated and internet savvy. The country has a good comprehensive state education system, graduates hundreds of thousands students a year from over ninety universities, and many of the 28 million online are the young. They know that Iran has more natural resources and a richer culture than many other nations; they know they are better educated than many of their elders, and with a few clicks they can see what their peers in less wealthy countries are enjoying: responsibility at work and freedom in their private lives.
This frustration erupts in three dangerous ways: One is that young people are enticed into politically motivated violence. It was mainly the naïve young who got caught up in the civil war in the 80’s between the revolutionary government and an Islamic leftist group, the Mojahadin. Thousands were killed, many in prison. It would be a tragedy if another civil war broke out. The second is the temptation for cynical politicians to send the frustrated young to an unnecessary war. This too would be tragic. The final one, which is already happening, is that this age group dulls their frustration with drugs and illicit sex. Hard facts confirm that Iran has one of the highest rates of heroine addiction among this group. Casual reports and even statements from ministers (see AIDS article below) indicate a rise in pre marital sex. No future beckons, so the young decide to extract as much pleasure as possible from the present.
There is another possibility. The young are disillusioned with the religious system that has not delivered jobs, freedom, or political voice. The fate of the violent is obvious: prison or execution. Clever, well informed people will think twice before marching along that blood-filled road to any war. And they know that hedonism offers shabby and shameful returns. The overwhelming desire of the young is to be happily married and have a family. Dislocated from the system that has let them down, wary of the simple slogans from the violent and lustful, there is something very appealing about the love of Jesus Christ. He promises to meet their basic needs; give inner freedom; and a cause to campaign for that is much greater than any a mere politician could give them.
This is not speculation. The churches are growing and many of the new-comers are the young, the twenty to thirties group. Some of them have grown so swiftly in their faith that they are already leading fellowships, and are attracting other young people. They have the energy and intelligence and commitment to drastically impact their land for good.
Youth Frustration at a Glance
• 15 – 29 year old make up 35% of the 70 million population.
• Over 3 million are enrolled in higher education; and internet savvy.
• 25% unemployment for men.
• 50% unemployed for women.
• Half of those in their late twenties, are unmarried and living with their parents.
• Youth political voice was crushed 2009.
The official number of AIDS cases is about 20,000, though some medical experts say it is probably about four times higher than this. To date AIDS has mainly been a disease for drug users, aged between 25 – 35. They make up about 80% of the cases. However, the news from the hospitals is that in recent years there has been about a 5% increase in the number of people contracting the disease because of sex. And this has recently led the Health Minister, Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi, to issue a warning there could be an ‘AIDS Volcano’ in the future with the number of cases increasing to five times the present number. She is particularly keen the younger generation heed her warning, and ‘follow moral principles.’ Her comments lends further credence to the impression many have that sexual immorality is on the increase, especially among young people. It is important the church both speaks out for chastity before marriage, and offers the Good News that Jesus Christ by His indwelling Spirit will keep people pure.