OPINION: Young, gifted and held back

KATHMANDU (The Kathmandu Post/ANN) - A platform must be created to harness youth-based skills in order to transform the state

For the first time in its history, Nepal is experiencing a huge demographic dividend. According to Nepal’s National Youth Policy, where youth is defined as those who fall between the ages of 16 and 40, approximately 20.8 percent of the total population falls in the age group of 16 to 25, while 40.68 percent of the population lies in the age group of 16 to 40, furthermore, 70 percent of the population is under the age of 35.

This phenomenon, where the youth accounts for the largest segment of the population is referred to as the ‘population dividend’ or ‘youth bulge’; it presents Nepal with unique opportunities. Experts report that the demographic dividend will last until 2038.

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The dark side of this youth bulge is that about 92 percent of the youth who enter the labour market leave for Malaysia and the Gulf annually; in the process, they also enter a space of uncertainty. The less documented aspect linked to this phenomenon is its direct and indirect implications for both those who migrate as labourers, as well as those that are left behind—their spouses and children.

According to ILO, about 80 percent of male workers and 90 percent of female workers who are in Nepal are working in informal sectors with no social or economic security. According to government data, the majority of youth who migrate are unskilled or semi-skilled. Similarly, a large number of the youth are barely literate. However, while the data may be indicative of the disadvantageous grounds on which young people begin migration, it is also largely quantitative and economistic in focus. The social and cultural implications of such data are less described and discussed in discourses concerning international migration.

The remittance coming from migration contributes to more than 30 percent of the total GDP, and in the informal economy, the contribution of remittance is much higher. But this comes at a cost. The people leaving the country for work or study—most of whom are young and account for more than a quarter of Nepal’s population—don’t get the chance to vote. This means that, as Nepal is going through the highest youth bulge in its history, the participation of youth in civic spaces is very low.

One of the major challenges facing Nepal’s development is the lack of integration of Nepali youth in the development process. There is a shortage of institutional platforms that could harness the myriad of youth-based resources and translate them into refined materials for the nation’s development.

The Nepali youth contribute significantly to the political and economic development of the country. Politically, they have been on the frontlines of major political changes, from reinstituting multiparty democracy to ending the monarchy. Recently, the country benefited immensely from the role of the youth in the post-earthquake rescue, relief and recovery work. The tremendous impact of youth-led relief campaigns has been felt across the country. Community participation, along with the endless energy and national pride of young people, has been a core reason for the massive success of the youth relief efforts. Local Nepali communities have been involved in all steps of the relief campaigns, from the beginning of the decision making process through to implementation. Through youth led relief efforts, young people have demonstrated that they are ready, willing and able to get to work to rebuild Nepal

More than words

The contributions of the youth during ordinary as well as extraordinary times raises an important question: How can a collaborative platform for harnessing youth-based skills be produced and turned into something more concrete?

This question presents challenges as well as opportunities for the state and the public. The youth are a huge resource in the fields of advocacy, activism, journalism, entrepreneurship, and scholarship, and if these could be transformed into formal, institutional platforms like youth councils, youth resource centres, and policy making bodies, it would be a great step forward. On the other hand, challenges lie in addressing institutional barriers. A lack of innovation and entrepreneurial interventions for youth, and highly politicised and bureaucratised systems that discourage innovation in governance could prove extremely detrimental.

Lately, some space has been created for youth input, but in reality, these serve more as tokens rather than reflecting a genuine desire for inclusiveness. Taking stock of these potential challenges and opportunities may be the first step in the long march towards building an equitable, ecological, and egalitarian Nepal. The current levels of official youth participation have to change, and the good things mentioned on paper have to be translated into action through meaningful youth participation from the centre to the grassroots.

Political parties, donors, development partners and international organisations have increased their work for youth development, but those interventions have been focused  in district headquarters and the Kathmandu Valley. Also, these initiatives have not carried over beyond workshops and seminars. According to a 2011 youth survey, about 80 percent of the youth live in rural areas. The challenge lies in reaching out to these rural youth groups through local institutions and informal youth clubs.

Youth groups operating in Kathmandu should come out of their comfort zone of traditional workshops and seminar activities and should collaborate with local youth groups operating in rural areas for meaningful dialogue and exchange of ideas.

Kumar is president of Association of Youth Organisation Nepal (AYON)

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