This year, Restless Development, along with War Child and Youth Business International, published the Case for Space From Rhetoric to Action research to understand the conditions needed for young people to participate in development. As the three-day Case for Space conference kicks off next week in Bangkok, we are publishing blogs from the young people behind the research. In our first blog of the series,  Brabim Kumar takes an opportunity to reflect on  the youth potential in Nepal and the barriers they are currently facing.

For the first time in its history, the small South Asian country of Nepal is experiencing a huge demographic dividend. According to Nepal’s National Youth Policy (where youth are defined as 16-40 years old), approximately 20.8% of total population of the country falls in the age group 16-25 years, while 40.68% of the population lies in the age group 16-40 and 70% of the population is under the age of 35. This phenomenon, where the youth account for the largest segment of the population of any country is defined aspopulation dividend’ or ‘youth bulge’. This provides a unique opportunity for Nepal.

In 2015, the Nepal Government came up with revised youth policy. Nepal parliament passed the bill to establish a national youth council and a new youth vision 2025 for youth development was launched. Despite of some good plans and strategies on the paper, the challenges for youth remains the same. Every year, over 550,000 youth enter into the labor market, out of which 91% of youth go abroad – especially to Malaysia and the Gulf.

The remittance (money or payments sent back to Nepal from this exodus) contributes more than 30% of total GDP, and in the informal economy, the contribution of remittances is much higher (usually money sent through relatives and friends). The saddest part is that with more than one quarter of the population out of country, they don’t have voting rights. 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 integration of the Nepali youth into the development process. There is a shortage of institutional platforms for harnessing the myriad of youth-based resources and translating them into refined materials for the nation’s development. The Nepali youth contribute significantly to the political and economic development of their country.

Politically, they have been in the frontlines of major political changes, from reinstituting multiparty democracy to ending the monarchy. Recently, the country benefited immensely from the role youth played in the post-earthquake rescue, relief and recovery work. Therefore, the contributions that the youth have made during the ordinary and extraordinary times push an important question into the public domain: how to produce a collaborative platform for harnessing youth-based skills and spirit and turning it into something more concrete?

This question presents challenges as well as opportunities for the state and the public sphere. On the one hand, the opportunities lie in transforming the massive resource that young people are in the fields of advocacy, activism, journalism, entrepreneurship, and scholarship into formal, institutional platforms, like Youth Councils, youth resources centers and policy making bodies from national to the grassroots levels. On the other hand, challenges lie in addressing the institutional barriers; lack of innovation and entrepreneurial interventions for youth; and highly politicized and bureaucratized systems that discourage the innovation in governance that is required to include youth into the planning and development process.

Lately, there have been some spaces created for youth input, but in reality these serve more as tokenism rather than a genuine desire to be inclusive. 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. When it comes to achieving SDGs, the current levels of official youth participation, which is only symbolic; has to be changed and the good things mentioned on paper have to be translated into action through meaningful youth participation from center to the grassroots.

What do you think?

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