Progres.online’s recommendations for revising the State Youth policy Program in Turkmenistan
On August 19, 2022 the state media shared the news that the council of the Youth Organization of Turkmenistan named after Magtymguly organizes round tables in the regions to explain the State Program on youth policy in Turkmenistan for 2021-2025. According to the news, one of the tasks of the meetings was to collect and study proposals coming from velayats (regions) to introduce amendments and additions to the Law of Turkmenistan on Youth policy. It was not made clear in the news who exactly was being consulted and what issues and problems were discussed.
Progres.online wanted to join the consultations by writing an article and highlighting to policymakers the urgent socio-economic issues that the young people face in Turkmenistan. We also wanted to collect input from our readers on their understanding of these problems. However, already 12 days after the news was released, on September 1, 2022 the President of Turkmenistan signed a new Law “On State Youth Policy”. Unfortunately, 12 days is not sufficient time to collect ideas and feedback from the public.
We would like to bring attention of the policymakers in Turkmenistan to the following urgent issues that will shape the future of the generations to come.
Allow for intellectual freedom to mitigate brain drain.
Due to the lack of intellectual freedom and state control over all thought and speech in socio-economic life in Turkmenistan, the brain drain continues in Turkmenistan. Many young people educated overseas with international education and professional experience decide not to return to or to leave Turkmenistan where they do not see potential for growth and development for themselves. Lack of intellectual freedom, freedom of thought and freedom of speech impedes innovation and creativity. To date, about two million people left the country over the last 10 years. This is not confirmed by the government. The government’s silence on the scale of the issue may support this claim by the independent sources. It is a widely shared understanding that young people ages 21-30 might be a core group of people leaving the country in pursuit of study and work. It is important to note that most of the young people are not leaving the country because they want to have freedom to organize political rallies but to meet their basic needs for education and employment and to send money back home to support their families.
Ease restrictions on freedom of speech and allow for private publishing houses.
Only about 400 titles get published in Turkmenistan yearly. Half of them are ideological and state propaganda books. This creates resource scarcity for young women and men to learn about classical and modern literature, science, technology, arts and other topics in the Turkmen language. There is an urgent need among the public and especially young people for translated content, materials, books into Turkmen from other languages.
Allow for registration of independent nonprofit groups that are led by youth and that will work on youth related issues with the youth directly both in Ashgabat and in velayats. Absence of genuine citizen led initiatives makes the social life in Turkmenistan lethargic and boring for young people.
Stop ongoing Internet bloсkade
One cannot access educational resources without VPN in Turkmenistan. Young people in Turkmenistan miss out on educational, professional development opportunities. This leaves them with outdated scientific information and knowledge from the last century. Due to Internet shutdowns, consistent blockade and slow speed of Internet many young people stopped their online education during COVID-19.
Freedom of movement
- Remove the ban and strict rules on international travel in Turkmenistan so young people can travel for study, work, trade and leisure.
- Remove outdated and harmful propiska (residency) system that impedes free flow of labor force inside the country.
- Develop a comprehensive and detailed plan to address poor access to housing. It is impossible to buy or rent an apartment for a young person living on his/her own salary. Rental prices in Ashgabat is 2.5 times more expensive (2-room apartments) than the average salary in the country. It takes 28 years to save and buy an apartment for a young person in Turkmenistan.
- Develop youth policy with benchmarks for youth employment. Overall unemployment might be at 50% or more in the country. Government does not disclose any statistics on this. Young people face bloated state sector jobs with antiquated management methods and low salaries. To find an entry level job young people need to have connections who can recommend them and/or they need to pay bribes.
- Address the long-standing problem of dual exchange rate and allow the families to send money to their children who are studying overseas without any limitations. Restrictions on foreign currency conversion made many Turkmen students overseas poor and socially vulnerable.
Address poor quality education
- Eradicate endemic corruption by outlining a comprehensive strategy for educational system.
- Open up opportunities for hosting campuses of high ranking international, educational establishments in Turkmenistan.
- Revise the national educational programs not only in the light of traditional values, but also modern scientific knowledge which is far behind at the moment in the country.
- Increase the number of university placements. For instance, 82,000 students graduated from 1875 secondary general education and specialized schools in Turkmenistan in 2022. But universities in the country can only admit up to 15,326 students and vocational schools admit up to 10,490 students. This means around 68% of school graduates are unable to continue their education. There is an urgent need to increase the number of technical schools (vocational education).
- Remove restrictions on choice of foreign universities and educational establishments that regulate where Turkmen students are allowed to study.
Develop and update the outdated approaches to mental health, the sexual and reproductive health education and services for youth
- Mental health services are not available to young people in Turkmenistan. One of the major factors is the absence of qualified psychologists, professionals.
- Develop science and evidence based reproductive and sexual health services for young people. Lack of comprehensive sexual education, silencing, shaming drives many issues underground and hurts physical and mental wellbeing of young people in Turkmenistan.
Revise compulsory military conscription policy
The current 2-year mandatory military conscription of the young men at the most productive age of 18-27 infringes on their freedom to choose what to do with their lives and interferes with their educational and career paths. There is no news, no reports on how exactly young men spend their time and learn in the military. It is plagued by the reports of bullying and poor conditions including inadequate food and lack of medicine.
The 2013 Law on youth policy in Turkmenistan
“Ýaşlar barada döwlet syýasaty hakynda” (“Law on State Youth Policy, Закон о государственной молодёжной политике) was signed on 29 August 2013 and amended in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2021. The new revised version of the law came out in September 2022. The new law has extended the age threshold for the “youth” category in Turkmenistan to 14-35 years old (previously it was 14-30 years old).
The State youth policy program in Turkmenistan
As part of the youth policy law of 2013, the former president Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov approved the State Program in the field of youth policy of Turkmenistan for 2021-2025 on January 8, 2021.
The Youth Organization of Turkmenistan named after Magtymguly was established on November 16, 1991. It is a government financed organization. It continues to use the model and methods of komsomol and ideological youth organizations from the communist past. Its main objective according to its charter is “to promote the domestic and foreign policy of the President among the youth”. In practice, it is mostly known to use its powers to mobilize young people for mass state events.
How much is allocated for youth programs?
The national youth policy (2013) details the sources of funding for implementation which include – funds of the state budget, funds of the youth foundations; membership fees of youth associations, donations, grants and income from the activities of youth entrepreneurship. However, it does not provide any breakdown of the costs or the exact budget of governmental entities responsible for youth programs. We could not find any government source indicating the budget allocations.
How many young people live in Turkmenistan?
Government of Turkmenistan does not provide any youth related statistics. Some statistics and indicators can be gleaned from the reports of international organizations.
According to UNFPA Turkmenistan’s Policy Brief on “Rights and Choices for All: Adolescents and Youth”
- Young people between the ages 1-30 years are 55%.
- Young people between the ages 15-29 are 25%.
- 30% of members of Parliament are younger than 30 years
- The Youth Organization of Turkmenistan counts over 900,000 members in the country aged 14–37 and works closely with the Cabinet of Ministers.
- 53.6% of girls aged 15-17 justify violence against women due to established traditional gender roles in the family and society. The percentage is even higher among women aged 20-24, reaching up to 61.8%.
Literacy rate: 99.76% Male (15-24), 99.91% Female (15-24)
The labor force participation rate in Turkmenistan for those aged 15-24 is 57% for men and 33% for women, as of 2017.
Youth unemployment: 17% of men who are 15-24 years old are unemployed, while 19% of women in this category are unemployed, as of 2017. (Percentage of persons who are available for work, and looking for a job, but are not working). Proportion of youth (aged 15-24 years) not in education, employment, or training is not known.
Poverty: 1% of men aged 15-24 years old who are working are considered working poor, while the rate is 0.3% for women (as of 2017). This is percentage of employed living below $1.90 purchasing power parity.
Education: Primary, secondary, and tertiary gross school enrollment rate by sex (as of 2014):
primary: 90% of men and 89% of women; secondary: 87% of men and 84% of women; tertiary: 10% of men vs 6% of women
Marriage: 6% of women marry between the ages of 15-18.
Youth related policies enacted in 2022:
- Exemptions introduced in military conscription for young men graduating from high school and planning to take the state exam for university level admissions. Valid only between the day of school graduation and university entrance exams in the same year. (15 June 2022). This is a great news for young men wanting to continue their education without interruptions. However, it is not clear if this exemption will be also available to young men wanting to study abroad.
- Tax cuts introduced for youth in the first three years of their employment. They will pay 50% lower in income taxes in the first year and 25% lower in the second and third years of their employment. (16 June 2022)
- The revised Law of Turkmenistan “On State Youth Policy” introduced a new concept of “youth enterprises”. It is considered as such if at least 75% of the employees in the enterprise are under the age of 35 or over 75% of the share of investments are by persons under the age of 35. These enterprises will be able to count on benefits from the state. (16 June 2022)
- New university of the Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs of Turkmenistan will be opened in 2025-2026 semester.
- Opening a new joint Turkmen-Russian University in Turkmenistan is under consideration. (10 June 2022)