Rural Youth of Central Asia
Searching for a Better Life
The lack of opportunities in the countryside pushes many young Central Asians to move to the cities, and then, abroad to labour migration. Very few remain in the rural areas.
The Lack of Opportunities and Labour Migration
Pakshif village in Matcha district of the Sughd region is located about 60 km north-west of Khujand, the administrative center of northern Sughd region of Tajikistan.

There are about a dozen of minibuses in the parking lot, which are called "Tangemka" here. They fit seven people and are the cheapest for travelling. All the drivers are young.

Few passengers wanted to travel from the city to the village. I had to wait a few minutes until the minibus was full.
The driver smiled watching how the passengers were suffering from the heat.

"It is hotter here than in the city. Do not worry, we will get there quickly. The village you need is close," the driver assured us.

He was right. The ride took 15 minutes. Pakshif was the third village from the center of the district. The driver dropped me off at the bus stop and showed me the way. It was crowded, there were more than ten young people and teenagers, many of them were carrying bags and backpacks. This is "mardikorbazar" (a place in Tajikistan where men ready to work are gathering and waiting for an employer).
A car drove by, and all the guys ran and surrounded the client. It became very noisy. They started offering their help, asking about the volume of work, negotiating a price. A few minutes later, only two guys got into the car, the rest returned to their seats disappointed.
"The watermelon harvesting season has begun, so these guys are waiting for clients. The farmers harvest their crops themselves, but hire these guys to load the cars. This is how they make money during the summer. Cotton-picking season will begin in autumn, and then, the rice-harvesting season. What else can we do? There is no other work here, there are no plants or factories," said Fitrat, resident of this village.

I wanted to meet and talk to these guys, so I started a conversation with a 16-17 years old boy.
"The farmers pay for the amount of work, not for the working hours. We can load a maximum of 2-3 cars per day. To load one car, we throw 300-350 watermelons into it, depending on the volume.

It is very hot in the field, and the work is hard. The car cannot drive to some fields. We have to carry bags with watermelons for 200-300 meters.

They pay 60-80 somoni (about $7) for loading one car. We divide this money for two or three people. Therefore, it is profitable for us to work in teams of maximum two or three people. If there are more of us, we will get less money.

I really want to go to university this year, but I need money for studying… If it does not work out, I will try next year. Meanwhile I will help my mother and sisters. I do not know what will happen next," Mahmud said with a smile.
By the time we finished our conversation, another car with the client came. Mahmud and his team were lucky: they were hired.
The house of our main hero, where we were heading, was on the third street of the village. We had to walk: the public transport does not work inside the villages.

There is little work for young people in the village. Planting agricultural products on their plots, harvesting and selling: that is all. Some keep livestock. To earn more, some residents make raw bricks from clay, which is abound in the area.

"There are very few construction projects this year. However, people still try to construct some kinds of small buildings. On their own. Some people make bricks to sell. Now, there are not many customers either," says Fitrat.

On our way, Fitrat showed a source of drinking water for the villagers, a medical center, a school and a gym where young people spend their spare time.

"In winter, many young people gather in the gym: they train, organize competitions. However, in summer, you will not meet anyone here. Everyone is busy with field work: sowing, harvesting," says Fitrat.

Pakshif village is small. About 250 families live here. The residents have two main sources of income: agriculture and labour migration.

According to the local authority, every seventh resident of the village has a higher education. Mostly, the boys are sent to study, and the girls are expected to marry early.

Very few of the young professionals returned after their studies to the village work in their specialty. Many cannot find well-paid jobs. Some start their own business, and some leave for labour migration.
A resident of Pakshif village Farhod Jumaev, 34, is the father of three children. In 2009, he graduated from the Foreign Languages Faculty of the Khujand State University and speaks four languages now.

He participated in training programs of various international organizations several times, filled applications, and passed exams. He wanted to leave for the USA or Germany, obtain citizenship and live there. However, he was not lucky. Each time he did not qualify for the second or third round of the competition. After graduation, he had to return to his home village.

Here, Farhod got a job as an English teacher at a school. The first five years, he worked enthusiastically. The small salary was not an obstacle for him. Later, when he became a father, expenses became higher, it was necessary for him to arrange his sisters' weddings and build a house. The teacher's salary was not enough for anything. He decided to quit his job and left for work first to Kazakhstan, then to Russia.

He returned home with new knowledge and skills, which he decided to apply in the village. He built small premises in the yard of the house and opened his own blacksmith shop. In the beginning, the work was difficult: there was both little experience and clients. However, people found out about his work and began to make orders. A few years later, people recognized him as a professional and began to order: to make stoves, carts and tapchans [trestle bed – Tr.]. Today, Farhod receives orders not only from his fellow villagers, but also from the residents of neighbouring villages.

"If I am lucky, I earn a maximum of 2-3 thousand somoni ($190-290) per month. I receive the main orders in the autumn, before the beginning of winter. In the summer, I am engaged in farming. We grow vegetables for the family and sell the remaining.

Many of my friends are in labour migration. There are those who were lucky: they left for America, got a job and live well. I was less fortunate," says Farhod.
However, not all the young people in Tajikistan can earn as much money in their villages as Farhod Jumaev. One of the main sources of income for villages is labour migration. Every Tajik family in the rural areas has one or two labour migrants who provide for the family.

The unemployment level in the Tajik villages is high. The official figures do not reflect the situation, since most of the citizens do not apply to state bodies when searching for a job. Every year, up to 40% of the country's working-age population leave for labour migration.

According to the Ministry of Labour, Migration and Employment of Population of Tajikistan, over 530.8 thousand citizens of Tajikistan left for labour migration in 2019.

According to various sources, from 400 thousand to 1 million Tajik citizens are in labour migration only in Russia. The average age of a Tajik labour migrant, according to the Institute of Demography of the Russian Research University Higher School of Economics, is 31 years. At the same time, younger people from 18 to 29 years old make up 55% of Tajik labour migrants.

Gulnora Beknazarova, Candidate of Sciences in sociology, says it is difficult for the Tajik youth to find a job inside the country. Some start working earlier, mostly those who leave school after completing the compulsory nine grades.

"After finishing 10 or 11 grades, finding job opportunities is problematic given the small labour market. Those completing the compulsory nine grades are also seeking an employment. They start working a little earlier than those who go to senior grades, colleges and universities," Beknazarova said.

At such a young age people do not have a profession yet, the life experience is not formed, and such young people have much higher uncertainty about the future, the sociologist believes. The level of critical thinking of these young people plays an important role at such situations.

Farhod still recalls his American dream, but tries not to speak about it. Now, he has another dream. He plans to open his own small blacksmith shop in the center of the district to train young people in the craft. However, there are no state benefits for young people in the country, and if they do exist, then only on paper. Therefore, he has to rely only on himself.

"It is impossible to find a job with a good salary in rural areas. Besides, it is impossible to make a living only with a salary. It also becomes more difficult for labour migrants to earn money in a foreign country every year. I think that for a promising job inside the country, one needs to have relatives in the government agencies or money," says Farhod.

Searching for a Place in the Sun
17 years ago, Shavkat Abdulazizov left Pulkhokim village in Boysun district of Surxondaryo region for the capital of Uzbekistan to enroll to the university, and never returned. He says that building a good future and a career in the village is difficult.

Now, he works as Deputy Chairman of the Youth Union of Surxondaryo Regional Council and manages the social, legal and healthcare issues. He lives in the regional center – Termez city.
Shavkat Abdulazizov:
- There are no such opportunities in the village, so I moved to the city for the sake of my future and the future of my children. The city has good conditions for studying and living, high-quality healthcare, well-developed communications and information technology, there are no difficulties with transport. There is also an opportunity to pursue a career. In addition, the city offers a higher salary. We have only one institution in the village – a school. There are no other state enterprises and organizations, no hospital, not even a kindergarten there.

A young man, returning to the village after graduating from the university, can work only in school and only if he graduated from a pedagogical university. There is no other job in the village. The main occupation and income of the villagers comes from the animal breeding: sheep, goats and cows.

Due to the difficulties with water for irrigation, it is impossible to engage in agriculture in our village, so I decided to stay in the city. My main problem here is only that I live far away from my family and friends.

I wish that the villages would have the good conditions for the youth. So that after graduation from the university, every young person could return to the village to his relatives, to work and develop.
3,184 people live in Pulkhokim village. 1,427 of them are young people, 270 are elderly and 1,487 are middle-aged people.

The village has one secondary school №28, which can educate 700 students. In 2019, 30 students graduated from it and only seven graduates entered higher educational institutions.

The main occupation and income of the villagers comes from the animal breeding. Due to problems with water access, farming is impossible here.
The most relevant problems for young people in Uzbekistan today, as well as for young people in other Central Asian countries, are unemployment, access to education, lack of start-up capital and finance, low level of legal awareness and crime.

To bring the state youth policy to a new level, the country developed the "Youth of Uzbekistan – 2025" concept and a roadmap for its implementation.

The main goal of the concept is the active involvement of the youth in the democratic, political and economic reforms in the country, creating favourable conditions for their potential, ensuring effective protection of rights and freedoms, legitimate interests, and raising their personal and professional levels.

On June 1, 2020, the document was published in the unified electronic system for the development and approval of draft regulations. The consideration of this document by the ministries and departments is still ongoing.

The Chairman of the Central Council of the Youth Union of the Republic of Uzbekistan Alisher Sadullaev in the interview said that almost half of the secondary schools graduates remain unemployed every year.

"I read a report that about 450,000 teenagers graduate from school every year. 230 thousand of them choose their path: enroll in the university or get a job. However, over 200,000 graduates are left unemployed. The question arises of what to do with these young people," says Alisher Sadullaev.

The employment problem of the rural youth remains the most relevant today. The situation is aggravated by the fact that Uzbekistan returns its citizens who were left without work abroad due to the coronavirus pandemic. Of the total number of two million migrants, about 73.4 thousand people already returned to their homeland. The migrants still keep returning. Young people under 30 make up 40% of labour migrants from Uzbekistan.
The Path from a Train Mechanic to a Member of the Parliament

Gennady Shipovskikh was born in Saksaulskiy village of Kyzylorda region of Kazakhstan. After his father passed away in 2004, he ended up in the orphanage named after Makarenko. Same year, a Kazakh family adopted him. Six years later, he graduated from the vocational lyceum No. 5 of Kazaly district of Kyzylorda region as an assistant mechanic and got a job at the locomotive-repair depot.
However, the depot was disbanded soon and he transferred to work in the Kyzylorda locomotive-operational depot as an assistant mechanic.

"I was very happy in my village. I worked well and thought that I would always live in the village with my parents. However, at some point, I realized that I needed to grow and to move forward," says Shipovskikh.

A few years later, he moved to the capital, and currently works as a Member of the Mazhilis (Lower House) of the Parliament of Kazakhstan:
"I was always told that there was a serious competition in the city, that no one would hire me, and that I would die of hunger. However, I was very lucky.

Of course, it was not easy to make such a decision, because I never left the village, I have never been to the capital; I saw it only on TV. However, I was not afraid of anything and always tried to achieve my goal.

My knees were trembling, I did not know what would happen tomorrow, but my perseverance helped me to achieve my goal.
For almost six years already, I work as a Member of the Parliament. Who would have thought that a simple mechanic would become a Member of the lower house of Parliament? I am aware that I have a great responsibility. I understand how people live in the village, how difficult it is sometimes for them. I always raise issues of my region.

My village is very small but very beautiful. I grew there. I have seen a lot in my life, and I appreciate every moment because of it. When I have spare time, I immediately go to my little village. I already have a family, a child, but the village always reminds me of my childhood."
This is Saksaulskiy village in Aral district of Kyzylorda region of Kazakhstan

The population is 9,228 people. According to the rural akimat, 80% of residents are elderly people and schoolchildren.

The village has one school for 300 students; it lacks teachers, so each one of them teaches two or three subjects, and almost half of the schoolchildren after the ninth grade leave to enter the boarding school in Kyzylorda city.

There is no work in the village either. One can get a job as a teacher, security guard or in a local farm.
The legislation of Kazakhstan includes the norm that considers people from 14 to 29 years of age as 'young'. According to the Committee on Youth and Family Affairs of the Ministry of Information and Social Development, there are four million of them in Kazakhstan. Almost half of them live in the rural areas – 1.7 million.

According to the Ministry, there are 84.7 thousand unemployed young people in the country as of January 2020, which is about 7% more than in previous year.
Most of the unemployed young people live in Almaty and the Almaty region: 16.8 thousand and 8.9 thousand, respectively. Turkistan region (7.3 thousand), East Kazakhstan region (7.1 thousand) and Nur-Sultan (6 thousand) follow. The data are provided by the Committee on Youth and Family Affairs.

During different periods, about ten programs for young people were developed in Kazakhstan, the most effective of which was aimed at housing provision. There is no special department in the country, but the youth policy departments work under the akimats and "Zhas Otan" youth wing functions under the "Nur Otan" party. In 2019, there were more than 106 thousand members in the organization.

- 40% of young people face employment problems in our country. Because of this, we developed a number of bills. The "Zhas Maman"* ['young specialist' in Kazakh – Tr.] program provides for the training of specialists in the 100 most demanded industrial and service professions on the basis of 200 modernized educational institutions.

Stimulating youth entrepreneurship includes doubling the volume of grants under the Business Roadmap 2020. A Fund to support youth start-ups is being created; a broad training of young people in the basics of business has been established; "Zhas Kusipker" ['young entrepreneur' in Kazakh – Tr.] program will be prepared in each region, covering up to 100 thousand representatives of educated unemployed youth, as well as self-employed.

We propose to update the program "With the Diploma – to the Village", because more than 40% of Kazakh youth cannot find a job in the villages, which is why they are moving to the cities.

* The "Zhas Maman" program was developed by the order of the first President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev, given at the opening ceremony of the Year of Youth on January 23, 2019. Its goal is to modernize 180 colleges and 20 universities in the 100 most demanded professions, as well as to introduce international experience in training qualified specialists.

After the project implementation, the educational organizations will be provided with modern equipment for training specialists demanded at the national and international levels, will become centers of competence for their region in the given profession, and will train participants for WorldSkills championships.

Sergey Ershov
Member of the Senate of Kazakhstan

According to official statistics, most of the young people work in the wholesale and retail trade, car and motorcycle repairs, as well as in agriculture.
- On October 5, 2018, in the message of the Head of State to the people of Kazakhstan, the President declared 2019 as the Year of Youth. However, it was only rhetorically, there were no specific activities.

There are many problems that concern us, such as free education, finding a high-paying job and the lack of funds to buy housing.

There are many private universities in the country where one can study for any profession, as long as there is money. It is difficult to apply for a grant: every year the state reduces the number of scholarships.

The program "With the Diploma – to the Village" did not yield any results. As before, young specialists refuse to go to the villages. Who wants to work there, if there is simply no Internet, and to Google information, you need to hike to the mountains?

Almost all young families in the capital rent housing, because it is impossible to buy an apartment for their salaries.

Finding a high-paying job is almost impossible. Many organizations require at least three years of work experience. Where does a university graduate get experience? Because of this, many smart people start a business or leave. Not everyone succeeds in realizing the professional potential. According to statistics, about 10 thousand young people leave the country every year.

Aldiyar Sergek
The Chairman of the "Zhas Kanat" youth committee of the Zhetysu State University
Searching for a Better Life: From Village to City, From City to Abroad
Jalal-Abad is the region in the south-west of Kyrgyzstan. It is known for mountain lakes, nature reserves, mineral waters and the world's largest natural walnut forest Arslanbob.

The region is rich in ecological resources, attractive to tourists, and during the Soviet years, was famous for its industrial status as an area for the extraction of minerals, natural gas, coal, metals and oil.
Once, young people came to the industrial cities of Jalal-Abad region to stay there, create a family, and work in factories and deposits.

However, after the Soviet Union collapse, everything changed.

"Almost every family has a person who had to leave to work," says local resident Kalicha. She returned to Jalal-Abad three years ago.
Kalicha Ashyrbek kyzy is 28; she was born and raised in Bazar-Korgon district of Jalal-Abad region. When she was a child, her parents left to work in Russia, so her grandmother raised her until the ninth grade.

Kalicha's parents saved some money while she studied and bought a house near Bishkek, so the family was able to move from the Jalal-Abad region.

Personal photo
Kalicha's mother is a handicraft master and Kalicha successfully adopted this skill. Since childhood, she sewed and made handicraft. After school, she entered the lyceum and studied as a tailoress, attended vocational training, worked in sewing shops, and a few years later, began working in leading fashion houses in Bishkek.

At the age of 25, the Kalicha got married and returned to Jalal-Abad region. Due to the lack of work, Kalicha's husband had to go to work in Russia, and she took up the sewing business again.

Kalicha Ashyrbek kyzy
Soon, Kalicha with her family moved to a new house and created a workshop in the largest room. She began to take not only individual orders, but also the large ones: from stores and shops in the markets.

"We will sew jersey tracksuits for the autumn. Previously, I worked with only one partner, but now, there are four people working in my workshop," she says.

Her husband returned from Russia and now, helps her with the sewing workshop. He is engaged in the delivery of clothes to shops and markets. They have two children whom they raise themselves.

However, Kalicha's story is rather an exception to the rule than something regular.

According to her, young people often move from their native villages and cities to the capital or go to work abroad.
"Every family of my relatives has someone in Russia, Turkey, America or some other country."
According to Kalicha, young people have to go abroad due to the lack of work and the inability to provide for their families. The unemployment rate in Kyrgyzstan is high among the entire population, not just among the young people.

According to the Eurasian Economic Commission, the highest unemployment rate among the EAEU countries is recorded in Kyrgyzstan: 3.3% (or 81.4 thousand people) of the economically active population.

The data are cited with reference to the employment services, which register the unemployed. At the same time, according to the National Statistical Committee, out of 70 thousand officially registered unemployed in 2018, every third was young, that is, between 14 and 28 years of age.
In 2017, the Institute for Youth Development in Kyrgyzstan conducted a research "Youth Wellbeing and Development Index". According to it, the index was 0.53 with an ideal value of 1. Among other indicators, the youth's economic situation in the country influenced this result.

Experts note that the number of unemployed among young people is much higher than in the official statistics. According to the Head of the UN Population Fund office Azamat Bayalinov, official data show that about 12% of young people in Kyrgyzstan are unemployed, but according to experts, there are more of them, about 20%. Many graduates of higher educational institutions are among them.

Higher education does not guarantee a job for young people. According to the National Statistical Committee, in 2018, every fifth unemployed person in Kyrgyzstan had a higher education, while this figure was 10% lower among the citizens with secondary education only.

"Many experts emphasize that the main reasons for unemployment are related to the economic and socio-demographic situation. However, I would rather pay attention to the education sector, which is not completely oriented to the modern labour market. The current market situation requires strategic investment in the technical education of young people and changes of the educational process in the traditional education system," Bayalinov said.

According to the National Statistical Committee, the youth of Kyrgyzstan is working mostly in agriculture: every fifth working young citizen works in this area. This can be explained by the fact that the most of Kyrgyz youth live in the rural areas.

According to the data by the National Statistical Committee, 7 out of 10 young people in Kyrgyzstan live in the villages. Consequently, there are more unemployed among young people in villages. In 2018, the research showed that three out of five unemployed young people live in villages.

"It is necessary to develop a benefit system for graduates leaving for work in the village. After studying at the university, young people should be able to find a good job, a decent salary and the opportunity to purchase housing in the regions," said the expert Azamat Bayalinov.
Move to the Capital to Leave Again
The unemployment is becoming the main reason why young people are forced to leave their native villages. Most of all, young people leave from Osh region. According to statistics, the influx of internal migrants mainly falls on Bishkek and Chuy region.

Meanwhile, the highest rates of external migration among young people are observed in Bishkek and Chuy region. Thus, young people in the capital also face the same problems as in the villages, which is why they have to leave the country searching for a job.

According to the National Statistical Committee, in 2018, every person leaving the country indicated the 'employment' as the reason for changing the place of residence in the migration card of the State Registration Service.

Three out of four young Kyrgyz citizens leave for Russia searching of a better life. The top 10 countries where young Kyrgyz go:

1. Russia
2. Kazakhstan
3. Uzbekistan
4. Germany
5. Turkey
6. Tajikistan
7. USA
8. Belarus
9. China
10. Azerbaijan
The search for a better life and a well-paid job are the main reasons for youth migration. There is less mobility in the villages, and even if there is a job, it is low-paid, so after school young people want to go abroad. On social networks, they see how young people live in other countries and want to live the same way. We cannot criticize them for this, since everyone has the right to choose the best living conditions.
Murataly Uchkempirov
Head of the Department for Coordination and Cooperation on Youth Affairs
However, youth migration also has the negative consequences. This is not only a brain drain from the country, but also a shortage of human resources in the villages.

"If all the young people leave, who are the main labour force, then only the elderly and children will remain in the villages. Accordingly, this will become the reason for the low level of the villages' development," says Uchkempirov.

Experts note that the problem of the lack of youth in villages is relevant not only for Kyrgyzstan, but also for developed European countries.

"To control the outflow of highly qualified specialists, many countries are improving their economic performance and creating conditions for young highly qualified specialists. Kyrgyzstan also needs to develop in this direction," Bayalinov said.
The rural youth in Central Asian countries are faced with the same problems: unemployment, forced labour migration, low quality of life and lack of conditions for self-development.

At the same time, villages and agriculture are one of the drivers of the economies of the countries of the region. Therefore, it is important for the states to have a young labour force in the rural areas.
- In the absence of opportunities in the country and their existence somewhere else, there is a natural desire to leave to better places. Migration is explained by such principles and our region is no exception. Young people are more inclined to migrate, since it is more difficult for older people to leave because of family or bonds. In addition, young people can compete more successfully on the labour market in another country.

Moreover, there are other reasons why young people migrate more.

Young people are not widely represented in decision-making in society. At the same time, they are dynamic and erudite; they have access to information with alternative possibilities. They see that nothing changes inside the country, and perhaps this is because they are not even represented in the decision-making process. The statistics show that there are very few young people among members of governments in Central Asia.

In Kazakhstan, a law on parliament quotas for women and youth was adopted only this year, but even so, this category is poorly represented. This is a huge part of the society, which, unfortunately, does not observe that their voices are heard and opportunities for their needs are created.

The state youth policy is not a panacea for solving the problems of promoting the rights or needs of youth. Such a document exists in all four Central Asian countries, but it is written in general terms. We have a Soviet past that affects how young people are perceived. This is more of a populist document designed to instill patriotism in young people.

I believe that migration is a natural process that is very difficult to contain. However, is there any point in containing it?

Young people leave for opportunities and education. We should not focus on stopping them, but on attracting them back. There are people who left their countries, but are ready to help with their experience and resources. They have a very strong desire to help. There is no need to deal with the outflow, but it is necessary to create conditions for them to help their city or country.

The state should consider how to use these resources and opportunities, since, to stop the outflow, it is necessary to reform the education system, transform the economic problems, but the state does not have the capacity to do so.

There is no job in the villages. If there is, it is the public sector: teachers in schools, municipal employees. They have low wages; farms and households save many people, but they also need to be developed and promoted. It is difficult to do this if the person is not educated. The state also does not create the conditions for farmers and cattle breeders.

Therefore, I believe, it is important to let the youth go not to sweep the streets abroad, but invest in their education. It is necessary to talk about legal employment so that they can use the EAEU conditions and other rights. The development of the villages will take place after these families have their own capital. I promote the idea of teaching migrants to invest in business, rather than build houses, buy cars, or hold the celebrations.

Elvira Kalmurzaeva

Photo: Sputnik Kыргызстан