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Addressing the youth bulge: What Nepal can do

The Himalayan, 21 January 2014 - There is an ongoing controversy vis-à-vis the roles of youth. Some appreciate them as the harbinger of nation building and others think of them as the source of political violence. The large cohort of youth often termed as “youth bulge” (a term coined by German social scientist Gunnar Heinsohn in the mid-1990s and made popular by American political scientists Gary Fuller and Jack A. Goldstone) is historically associated with political crisis. Those who support the latter consider ‘young males’ as the protagonists for criminal activities and political violence. They opine a large proportion of young adults and a rapid rate of growth in the working-age population tend to exacerbate unemployment, prolong dependency on parents, diminish self-esteem and fuel frustrations.

According to the statistics, between 1970 and 1999, 80 per cent of civil conflicts occurred in different countries where 60 per cent of the population or more were under the age of thirty, according to the report of Population Action International (PAI). In recent years, there are about sixty countries with youth bulges, of which the majority are experiencing social unrest and violence. Demographers have stressed that youth bulges do not solely explain these civil conflicts—corruption, ethno-religious tensions, poverty, and poor political institutions also play contributing roles—nor do they rule out as coincidence the predilection toward social unrest among states with large youth populations.

Everyday thousands of Nepali youth fly for foreign employment to secure their financial future. The census report of 2011 shows almost 20 per cent of the total population (52, 90,051/2, 64, 94,504) has gone out of the country and they are of between the age of 15 and 24 years. Among them 75 per cent of the workers are unskilled while 25 per cent are semi-skilled, according to the Government of Nepal, Ministry of Labor and Transportation Management (MoLTM). Out of them, 75 per cent have not completed their school education. Some workers are also facing several problems including loot, deception, and torture. The annual report of Department of Foreign Employment shows that everyday Nepal receives 3-5 corpses of Nepali migrant workers from abroad. Had there been commensurate employment opportunities within the country for them, they would not have opted to go for foreign employment.

Capital formation is a crucial factor for the simultaneous development of a country. The more a country uses the resources productively, the more are the chances of overall development of the country. Annually, our country receives more than two hundred billion rupees as remittance, which contributes 23 per cent to the GDP. The studies show that remittance has not been used in the productive sector. The latest Nepal Rastra Bank report shows that in fiscal year 2011/12 more than 90 per cent of the total remittance met household consumption. The recent Economic Survey postulates that the share of household consumption on total GDP is 91.4 per cent. It is a universal rule that, for a country to be developed, investment expenditure should be higher than consumption expenditure. Unlike this, investment expenditure in Nepal is low (nearly 32.8 per cent of the total GDP, out of this Gross Capital Formation is only 19.6 per cent) to increase the employment opportunities. The stated fact reveals that, the remittance has insignificant contribution in the capital formation process due to the lack of long term investment strategies of the income being received from remittance.

According to National Planning Commission, the annual rate of urbanization in Nepal is 4.7 per cent which is a rapid trend. Most of the rural people with a better income have been migrating to urban areas leaving their productive land fallow. They leave their land either barren or rent it out to the traditional farmers, which in turn has undermined the potential productive benefits of these rural lands in the country. Agricultural sector contributes around 35 per cent to the GDP. Despite this, in the national GDP, agricultural system is still in dismal situation. The percentage of educated human resource involved in the agricultural sector is very insignificant.

With the right investments and continued progress through the demographic transition, in time large youth populations can become economically-productive populations that can drive economic gains—a phenomenon known as the demographic dividend. For example, the rapidly growing economies of East Asia, or in Europe, that of Ireland, all underwent small youth bulges that contributed to their countries’ strong economic outputs. “If you can educate young people and create jobs for them, they can be a boon for development,” Michelle Gavin, a critic argues. How long do we enjoy the remittance of our youths? What happens if Nepali youths don’t get any opportunity outside and we too fail to create opportunities in the country? Surely the situation will be exacerbated and the large group of youth may be counterproductive for the nation. So what we need is good education and employment opportunities in the country. Contrary to general expectation, the ‘youth bulge’ with necessary skill can play a constructive role for the nation.


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