Only by providing adequate opportunities to the youths, can Nepal realize its dream of transitioning into the middle-income country by 2030.
Young people are not in a ‘waiting period’...waiting to be leaders; waiting to make a difference...young people matter now.”
- Philanthropist, Taveras (2006)
Youths are not only future leaders but also actors and foundation of our society, with a direct stake in various development processes.Young people play a crucial role in national development and therefore they should be involved at all of its stages. In Nepal, much needs to be done to get the youths engaged in these vital sectors. This becomes clear when we consider the practical implications of shifting perceptions of youth and the role they can actually play in the society.
As per the National Youth Council Act (2015), 16-40 age group of people are identified as youth, which means approximately 40.35 percent of total population of Nepal fall under this category. The sizable youth population generates unprecedented demand for education, training and employment which, if handled properly by the government, can serve as a demographic gift and open various windows of opportunities. By building upon the human capital and providing adequate opportunities to the youths, Nepal can realize its dream of transitioning into the middle-income country by 2030. At present, Nepal is ranked at 77th position in Global Youth Development Index (YDI) which, compared with our Human Development Index (HDI) ranking of 140th, is 63 places better. At a cursory analysis, it might seem that Nepali youths are faring far better than the overall population but that’s not the case in reality. If we dig deeper, there exist some flaws in calculating modality of YDI which results in painting of beautiful yet distorted picture.
Youth Development Index (YDI) is a composite index of 18 indicators that collectively measure multi-dimensional progress on youth development. It has five domains measuring levels of education, health and well-being, employment and opportunity, political participation and civic participation for young people. Similarly, Human Development Index (HDI) is a summary measure of average achievement in three key dimensions of human development namely a long and healthy life, being knowledgeable and having a decent standard of living.
The HDI is the geometric mean of normalized indices for each of the three dimensions. As we can see, HDI dimensions are largely dominated by education and health performances. Therefore substandard performance in those areas will shrink the score tremendously whereas in terms of YDI calculation, health and education performances are not as dominant as in HDI. Thus below par performances in education and health dimension can be neutralized by better performance in other headings. This has happened in case of Nepal.
As per the YDI report, Nepali youths fared well in terms of employment opportunity and political participation with the ranking of 60 and 11 respectively whereas in terms of education and health, their performance slipped down considerably with the rankings of 85th and 135th respectively (see the table alongside).
Nepal has always relied upon stern shoulders of youths to intensify the political movements in its history. To be specific, Democratic Movement (1950), People’s Movement (1990) and April Uprising (2006) were fueled by the energy of the youths. Moreover, all the political parties have youth wings which are used strategically to invigorate the public as per the need. These trends and practices, in some way, serve as the rationale behind more engagement of youth in politics.
Regrettably, however, very few youths have been able to graduate from the role of infantry soldiers to that of top position holders. This makes us question the final score accumulated in YDI. Nepali youths have been time and again used and abused by the political parties to fulfill their vested interests. The YDI calculation process must have taken into account the meaningful participation rather than mere participation while deriving their scores. Indicators relating to youth candidates in national, provincial and local bodies must have been established for derivation of the scores.
Contrary to popular assumption, Nepal has fared well in terms of employment and opportunity. Indicators used for deriving these scores include Youth Illiteracy Rate, Employment or Training (NEET) rate, Youth Unemployment ratio, fertility rate and existence of account at a financial institution. As more and more youths are migrating externally for education and employment purposes, these figures are bound to increase particularly NEET rate and unemployment ratio. And flourishing of the banking industry and government provisions for mandatory bank accounts for receiving reconstruction grants may have shown better performance in the indicator relating to possession of bank accounts. Needless to say, this does ensure youth participation in politics. Banking sectors need to ensure that those who have bank accounts are actually using them and they are benefitting as well.
Regarding employment, 18 percent of Nepal’s population of 30 million at any given time is working abroad. Majority of youths from Province 6 and 7 migrate to India to find works. Since Nepal shares an open border with India, it is hard to know the real volume of migration, nature of activities they are engaged with and the amount of remittance they bring in.
There is another group of estimated two million people, mostly youths again, who are working in Gulf countries and other countries such as Malaysia and Korea. Limited employment opportunities, poverty and conflict have pushed them there. Our government has failed to exercise political diplomacy to ensure their safety. Majority of the migrant workers are forced to work in precarious scenarios and aren’t provided with any legal protection from the hosts. Hence, these shabby details suggest that the beautiful picture depicted in the high employment and opportunity scores of YDI has corroded roots. We haven’t solved the problem, we have only figured out a very dodgy temporary solution which can potentially have disastrous consequences.
Dissection of the inflated YDI score should not be taken as an attempt to blemish the progress made in the field of youth empowerment. Instances and trends such as rise in youth entrepreneurship, introduction of youth-led social and political movements are definitely positive signs. But we need to ensure that we build upon these achievements without being entangled in the hollowness of the YDI scores. We must keep working on what is required to engage youths more efficiently in the socio-political milieu of Nepal.
The author is an independent development professional