Demographic behaviour in the transformation process in Tajikistan

The relationship between youth bulge and conflict

A ‘youth bulge’ is defined in a society when the 15 to 24 age group makes up more than 30% of the total population. The concept of youth in the cultural context of Tajikistan is used as a qualitative description mainly for men between the ages of 16 to 35 - those responsible for all physical labour including the use of violence. For Tajikistan, a child bulge (children under 15 years) of 40% has been detected that is expected to develope to a youth bulge in the coming decade. This project uses anthropological demography as a methodological means to focus on the meaning of youth bulge in a social context.

According to a census for this project in a neighbourhood of Shahritus, 56 women at the end of their reproductive life, share 408 children, an average of 7.29 children per woman (GFR 7.285). An historical analysis of Tajikistan and the Soviet Union taking a closer look at demographic behaviour shows that while fertility in the northern regions of the former Soviet Union declined significantly, under the same laws population growth in southern areas reached record levels . With independence, Tajikistan fell into political conflict that eventually turned to civil war lasting from 1992 to1997. With the return of peace, it is possible to examine more closely the demographic effects of the civil war and the role played by youth in it.

Clearly, mortality too changes during violent conflict. One opposition neighbourhood had 38.5% (51 men and 31 women of a total of 213) of all deaths between 1960-2006 occuring during the years of war from1992 to1995. The highest mortality rate was among newborn babies (54.64% before the age of four), explained largely by the stress women suffered as refugees. Mean age at death (measured by the simple equation: number of deaths/number of person years) fell to about 19 years in the same period. The second highest mortality rate was in the youth age-group from 12 to 39 years, making 26.23% of the total.

What census data about conflicts needs to be collected?

The project captures complete sets of siblings including those not present in the village, thus showing the complexity of the family situation and sibling relations most affected by the radical changes of violent conflict. Gaps between siblings are filled by narratives: disease, death, medical reasons or a social event preventing a woman from having children. Any gap of more than 5 years (between the first 2 children more than 3 years) was investigated more closely and documented by the narrative story of the mother or another relative.

A second data set concerns marriage, the most important event in any society where children are not permitted outside a contract of partnership (Heady 2007). Apart from providing the date of marriage, the marriage narrative is important in bringing an account based on real life circumstances, as opposed to an idealised description of correct cultural performance. Tajik marriage patterns appear totally changed in the conflict situation. While some young men enjoy extended time as singles, others marry quickly ignoring usual cultural obstacles. Parents adopt a new time management, making decisions by criteria other than those normally used. They seem keen to perform their parental duty quickly. In times of conflict, life is accelerated, with no decisions for the long term.

The parental generation has experience of how social recognition and accepted values may change from one day to the next, leading to consideration of how best to invest in children. Families tend to send their sons into various economic sectors and provide them with different educations. This division is most apparent in the Gharm mountain villages. where families might have among their sons one mullah, another studying and one or two working in Russia. Of course a mullah might now and again have to go to Russia as well, and some sons in Russia are merely postponing their dream of studies. For parents, having sons in different sectors brings social security. It is impossible to know where the regime is going and what is coming next. Can the family as an institution prevent conflicts in this way? Clearly, the family becomes flexible and the parents' old age is better secured by the choice of such an educational strategy. But society has at the same time become more pluralistic and (male) youth has more options than in the past.

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