Dashboard on Youth Sexual & Reproductive Health: Middle East

This data dashboard provides a regional snapshot of key indicators on youth sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and their implications for youth in the Middle East region. To view the other regional dashboards, click on the links below:

Click any of the highlighted countries to see all indicators available for a more complete picture of youth SRH. If you would like to compare data across countries, visit the Country Comparison Database.

Please note that countries missing bars in the following charts did not collect or report for the specified indicator. See the sources used to compile the dashboard's data and definitions of all the indicators.


Approximately one in five people living in the Middle East is between the ages of 15 and 24. Declining mortality and increasing fertility have led to a “youth bulge” in the region. A youth bulge occurs when children and young people account for a large share of the country’s total population. This occurrence presents both an opportunity and a challenge for the Middle East. When young people are healthy and empowered, they can accelerate development and be catalysts for sustainable change. However, many countries in the region continue to face high levels of unemployment and poverty as well as political instability.  

Simultaneous investments in youth education and economic opportunity as well as sexual and reproductive health can lead to decreases in fertility and increases in employment. The ability to control one’s fertility increases individuals’ productive capacity and can lead to a decline in a country’s dependency ratio (number of working citizens compared to nonworking citizens). When the dependency ratio declines, in conjunction with reduced unemployment, per capita income can increase—a phenomenon known as the demographic dividend.

Population aged 10-19, Total (thousands) 2011

Population aged 10-19, Proportion of total population (%) 2011


School enrollment in the Middle East has improved significantly in recent years. However, illiteracy and school drop-out persist in some countries. Girls are disproportionately affected, with more females out of school and illiterate than their male counterparts. Poverty, strong traditional gender norms, and high rates of early marriage all contribute to low rates of school attendance among girls in some countries in the region.

The benefits of education for young people are indisputable. Education prepares young people for adulthood, improves their economic opportunity, and contributes to better health outcomes. Higher participation in education at a national level is associated with lower HIV prevalence among adolescents, fewer teenage births, and later sexual initiation among youth. Girls in developing countries who receive seven or more years of education typically marry later and have fewer children over the course of their lifetime. Furthermore, schools can provide a valuable opportunity to learn about reproductive health and HIV in a stable classroom environment.

Transition from primary to secondary education

Youth (15-24 years) literacy rate (%) 2007-2011


Approximately 4 million young women under the age of 20 in the Middle East and North Africa are currently married. More than 30% of girls under the age of 18 are married in Yemen. Early marriage is often more common in rural areas; for example, more than 70% of rural females ages 15-21 are married by age 18 in Egypt. Poverty, along with harmful gender and cultural norms, contributes to early marriage in many Middle Eastern countries.

Married adolescents are an extremely vulnerable and hard-to-reach population. Child marriage is linked to early childbearing (as many as 90% of adolescent pregnancies occur within marriage) and increased risk of HIV and other negative SRH outcomes. Many married adolescents experience domestic and sexual violence. Young women who marry older men also tend to have less power to negotiate safer sex and contraceptive use, which may have important implications for the incidence of abortion and STIs, including HIV.

Percent married by ages 15 and 18

Adolescents currently married / in union (%) 2002-2011


Early pregnancy, much like early marriage, is more prevalent among young women who live in rural areas in the Middle East. Girls who become pregnant often drop out of school, are sometimes forced into early marriage, and are likely to earn a lower income over their lifetime. Pregnancy also poses significant risks to young women’s health. Childbirth-related complications are the number one cause of death among girls ages 15–19. Pregnancy during adolescence also increases the risk of anemia, postpartum hemorrhage, prolonged obstructed labor, obstetric fistula, malnutrition, and mental health disorders, including depression. Furthermore, neonatal mortality rates are higher among mothers younger than 20 years old.

Births by age 18 (%) 2007-2011

HIV Status

Data suggest a low HIV prevalence in the Middle East; however, recent evidence shows that risk is steadily increasing. Between 2001 and 2012, the number of new infections in the Middle East and North Africa increased by 52%. The majority of new HIV cases occur among key populations—injecting drug users, sex workers, and men who have sex with men. Young key populations, ages 10–24, are at greater risk of HIV acquisition than their older counterparts and often account for a large percentage of key populations.

Overall, young women are more vulnerable to HIV than their male peers. Biological factors, as well as a host of social factors—including cross-generational sex, transactional sex, gender-based violence, and limited ability to negotiate safer sex—increase girls’ vulnerability. Early marriage can also increase young women’s HIV vulnerability, as married adolescents often have sex more often; use condoms less often; are less able to refuse sex; and have older, more sexually experienced partners.

HIV prevalence among young people