Of these, 8.7 percent youth live in developing countries and face severe constrains in accessing resources, health care, education, training, employment and economic opportunities. ILO Report 2011 revealed that global youth unemployment rate peaked at 12.7 percent (75.8 million), the largest annual increase in the last 20 years.
World Bank Report 2010 had warned that “not investing in young people in particularly not creating the required jobs for them will make youth more vulnerable and at risk of being marginalized creating generations of idle citizens.” According to UN too, lack of job opportunities, inadequate education, vulnerable working conditions and insufficient government investment in youth are major concerns of the day.
The 48 least developed countries with 12 percent of global population are projected to account for 40 percent of global population in the next four decades at the current growth rate. These youths will be at the bottom of development ladder, among the poorest, weakest and the most vulnerable.
In Istanbul, as per the Program of Action for the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) for the decade 2011-2020, 60 percent of LDCs population is under 25, compared with 46 percent in developing countries. It describes the youth populations as an asset, and calls for creating opportunities including education and productive employment to engage them fully in economic, social and political life.
Seventy percent of world´s population growth between now and 2050 is projected to take place in 24 countries that are categorized as low income or lower middle income. These countries are badly hit by poverty and social tensions; ideological radicalization, poor infrastructures and fragile economy. In other words, they are fertile grounds for terrorism. This is exemplified in the fact that two-thirds of LDCs have either just emerged from conflicts or are still trapped in conflicts.
These conflicts, unsurprisingly, are associated with low human development and low economic growth. Again, according to the World Bank, poverty and conflict go hand in hand: Countries emerging from war have a 44 percent chance of relapsing into another conflict within five years. Countries with large youth population and with little infrastructure are also marked by their inability to create or sustain democratic institutions and hence are more likely to fall or relapse into conflict than those with smaller youth populations.
Of the 48 LDCs, the African continent has 33, making up for 61 percent of the total LDCs population. About 37 percent of Africa´s workforce is comprised of youth. ILO Youth Employment Report 2010 put the unemployment relatively high across Africa, which has resulted in the largest numbers of armed conflicts engaging half of the United Nations’ global peacekeeping forces.
Given the politics of greed that characterizes the country, Nepal’s situation appears no less vulnerable. According to 2011 census, 13.5 percent of Nepal’s population is in the age cohort of 10-15, while the 15-24 age group accounts for 19 percent. Likewise, the age cohort of 15-40 accounts for 27 percent of total population and those in 15-59 for 54 percent. Given the retirement age of 60, 15-59 group can be considered active population.
Available data suggest that about 70 percent of youth force is unemployed or underemployed in Nepal. As a result, foreign employment is an attractive option for Nepali youths, contributing to an increase of 18.27 percent overseas migration in the first nine months of the current fiscal year. Continued economic stagnation, poor infrastructures and unsettled politics compel millions of Nepali youth to go abroad in search of employment opportunities.
Over a million people aged 25 and 30 left Nepal for foreign jobs from 2007 to 2011. Though remittances from them have supported the subsistence economy of Nepal and now contributes 26 percent to total GDP, there is no denying that these young people would have been a huge boost for the country´s sustainable development had there been opportunities for them to work in Nepal. Even as we consider remittances the cure-all for our economic woes, we must not forget that the once fertile hills and plains are being turned into barren fields. Remittances are no solution to the compounding challenges the country faces.
Youths are like clay and easily fall prey to extremism and radicalism in absence of opportunities. Thousands of youths were lured by false hopes and aspirations and coerced into work as fighters, sex slaves, porters, and even child bearers during the decade long armed-conflict. This has ruined the future of Nepali youth, and engrained violent culture in society.
The Maoist combatants verified by the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) are reported to have been between the ages 12 to 25 at the time of their forced conscription. Today, integration and rehabilitation of this misguided and misled youth force remains the most critical issue in establishing lasting peace in the country.
If the energy and skills of these youths are properly tapped, they can be strong pillars of democracy and engine for development. Let us not forget: Nepali youth has been at the center-stage of all democratic movements from 1950 to 2006. It was their sacrifices that led to the establishment of democracy and abrogation of the 240-year-old institution of feudal monarchy. As the country is engaged in post-conflict reconstruction and development exercise, youths remain pivotal to its success. Neglecting them is to make the country weak and permanently vulnerable to violence, rebellion and instability.
Enough attention on creating opportunities in the country is necessary toward consolidating peace, rebuilding the state, promoting good governance, and institutionalizing democracy and development. In this connection, management of youth and channeling their energy and dynamism into constructive ends is a big challenge for Nepal.
Forced into dismal social-economic conditions, 26-years-old Mohammed Bonaizizi of Tunisia had to tragically end his life. That was the spark for the Arab Spring. (Notably, around 60 percent of about 300 million Arabs are under the age of 25, with unemployment in the region as high as 40 percent.) The spark lit up in Tunisia turned into a full-blown flame that engulfed dictators from Tunisia to Egypt to Libya to Yemen. Mohammed´s death happened to be the beginning of the awakening of a young generation from a long and uneasy sleep, denial of dignity, lack of opportunity and hope.
Youth are the future of any nation. They are the innovators and leaders of tomorrow. They should be recognized as a major strategic tool for national development, socio-economic and political transformation, national integration and technological innovation.
It is time to move beyond the cosmetic programs and reach out to the young people, listen to them, learn from them, empower them with good education, invest appropriately and adequately in building knowledge and human capital, and integrate them into the mainstream of development.
There is no alternative to harnessing the youth potential to bring about meaningful changes in our society. Politics as usual is certainly not an option in the present context. For ultimately, youth problems, if left unaddressed, could pose a threat to national security in the long term.