Article/ working letter
Youth as Change Agents in Nepal's growth

Youth as Change Agents in Nepal's growth

Sarita Sapkota

Dr. Bhola Nath Chalise


July 2012


Generally, Youth is referred to as the time between childhood and maturity. However, from social, political and legal perspective, the age group defined as youth vary. From an international perspective, the United Nations define youth as persons between the ages of 15 and 24. Previous census reports of Nepal have also identified youth as those in the age group of 15 to 24. However, the Ninth Five Year Plan (1997-2002) had defined youth as those between the ages 15 and 29 and the national youth Policy of B.S. 2066 had extended the definition of youth as the population between age of 16 and 40.

According to the 2001 census, the total population of youth of age 15-24 was 4,405,770 which made up 19.37% of the total population[1]. Similarly, going by the definition of Youth as per the National Youth Policy, the population of Youth in Nepal (16-24) was 8.952,143, which was 39.37% of the total population where the percentage of male youth in total youth population was 48.37% and female youth was 51.63%.

Nepalese Youth—Recent Characteristics                                                                                                                                                    As almost 82% of the youth aged 15-24 are literate in Nepal[2], the young population has been looking out for opportunities in different sectors. The phase of youth is associated as a period of high mobility and Nepalese youth have been no exception to this. Almost half of all households in Nepal have at least one migrant abroad or a returnee and many migrants are in their mid-20s (Figure 1)[3]. The fact is further reinforced by the findings of the Nepal Labor Force Survey, 2008 which also shows that out of the total absentee population (which is about 15% of the total population)l the age group of 15-29 is the most absent constituting the highest of 29.8%. Additionally, the second highest age group of absentee population was 30-44 years constituting 20.1% of the total absentees.

In the decade long period of civil conflict (1996-2006), many youth migrated in search of security and employment where the mobility has been seen from rural to urban places and from all parts of Nepal to foreign countries in search of employment. Lately, the trend of going abroad for education has also increased amongst Nepalese youth.

According to the Department of Foreign Employment, 240,269 Nepalese left overseas for foreign employment in the first nine months of the fiscal year 2010-2011 (DoFE, 2011)[4]. On an average at least 1,099 Nepalese migrant workers fly out of the country every day[5] and this trend has been increasing in the recent months. If the informal means of foreign employment is also taken into consideration, the numbers go even higher. In this context, in a survey done by ILO in 2004 on 795 randomly selected migrants who sought to work in Gulf countries, it was found out that a majority of migrant workers are within the 20-30 years age bracket[6].


Similarly, in terms of young Nepalese going for abroad education, from 2066-04-01 to 2067-03-31, 26,913 Nepalese left for abroad education whereas, from 2067-04-01 to 2068-03-12, the number was 11,392[7].

On the other hand, in terms of the recent significant characteristics observed in Nepalese youth is their access to technology and connectivity with the rest of the world which can be reflected through the recent surge of social media. As of June 30th, 2011, there were 1,072,900 Facebook Users from Nepal[8] which amounts to 3.7% of the total population. For a country like Nepal, where only less than one-tenth of the total population has access to the Internet, the numbers of Facebook users is pretty high. More than 1200 blogs have been listed by a prominent Nepalese blog aggregator[9]. This chunk of population which uses social media as a tool largely comprises of youth.

Youth and Political Change in Nepal                                                         

Youth have been regarded as an important force in the process of political change in Nepal. From the revolution in 1951 against the autocratic regime to other major political changes including the ones that took place in 1990 and 2006, young people have been at the forefront of change. However, the youth have not been able to establish themselves at the decision making level and have a larger stake at the political change process of Nepal.

The two avenues for the participation of youth in political change are through involvement in the partisan politics and non-partisan politics. In terms of partisan politics, a huge mass of youth have been maintained as political cadres as the youth wing of major political parties. These youth wings subscribe to the ideology to the mother party and are in sync with the larger political decisions and orientation of the mother party.


Self-reported membership of major youth wings such as young Communist league (affiliated to United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) boasts a membership of 1,000,000 whereas, the Youth Federation Nepal and youth Force (affiliated to Communist Party of Nepal— Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML)) claim a membership of 500,000 and Nepal Tarun Dal (affiliated to Nepali Congress) cite a membership of 120,000[10]. However, the Carter Center's observation report (2011) on Political Party youth Wings in Nepal notes the involvement of such youth base activities such as efforts to influence contract tender processes; efforts to assert influence over selection processes for user groups or school management committees (SMGs), and other efforts that are "aimed at obtaining financial gain and which have the effect of undermining political space, development, and public security."

While the involvement of youth in partisan politics had led them to be utilized as "muscle power" rather than being an important stakeholder in the overall change-making process, the scenario of non-partisan politics has not flourished. In this context, large sections of youth choose to stay rather aloof from the political process.

 Some of the reasons for growing apathy of youth and non-involvement in the change-making process could be the outcome of the following phenomenon:                                                                                            

Slow Evolution of Democratic Process                                                                     The trend of Nepalese governance has shown that people have chosen their leaders in few rare instances of elections in the past and after that, the government is run through the interplay of political twists for a long time even after it is proved inefficient and incompetent. This way, fresh and new leadership is rarely seen and that has been one of the prime reasons for the political frustration among youth in Nepal. With time the needs, priorities and choices of people have changed given the changing scenarios, experience and the evaluation of the performance of the governments people had once chosen. But this evolution and learning has not been able to reflect itself in the evolving democratic system of Nepal which is why democracy has not been able to deliver.

So far, hardly any government has been able to complete a full term of governance, since the establishment of multiparty democracy in Nepal. More than performance and accountability-based leadership, political bargains have taken its toll on Nepalese governance where incompetency is sustained at the cost of inter party political arrangements which are even more flourishing given the period of prolonging political transition. Hence, regular elections along with other democratic institutions which are crucial in a democratic process and which could have created space for fresh young leadership come, has been lagging.     

                                                                                                                                   Political Grip from earlier Leadership                                                                                                                                                   One of the prime challenges in youth involvement in politics has also been the patronizing attitude of existing political leadership towards the young leaders. In terms of party politics, the political culture of Nepal in the in intra party political process itself has not been able to accommodate the young. Even in positions secured for young people, the definition of youth has changed over the years, often to accommodate political interests and one of the reflections of it is the definition of youth in the National Youth Policy, 2010, where individuals up to the age of 40 have been considered youth. Hence, the trend of stretching the grip as far as possible has played some role in keeping the youth leadership out of picture. In the 601 member Constituent Assembly of 2008, the average of a CA member was 44.4.

However, on the other hand, the youth themselves also have not been able to get out of the grip of the patronizing attitude of the state and prevailing senior leadership. While the formulation of the National Youth Policy, 2010, has remained a great achievement, the policy reflects high expectation from the State, whereas, it has not been able to create practical avenues and platforms for youth to be a part of larger change in the political and economic growth process.

                                                                                                              Capacity and Attitude towards bringing change

                                                                                                                                   The current generation of Nepalese youth is certainly more educated, aware and better connected than its previous generation. However, when it comes to their capacity in being able to initiate the change process, both in the political and economic sphere, the impact has been low. The low impact thus raises question on the capacity of the youth to actually do so. Arguably, it has been pointed out at several instances that the educational system and social upbringing prevailing in Nepal does not really train young people for the level of critical thinking necessary to influence significant political and economic change. It has been often discussed that the youth in Nepal lack enough understanding of policy choices and its long term implications. Hence, in order to influence change, youth need to be more aware and have a greater understanding of issues and the actual implication of policies in order to be able to shape them.   

                                                                                                                                                                                                             On one hand, while the youth are increasingly becoming aware and empowered  regarding their rights, the sense of duty among young people seems to be missing, which is further fostered by the preceding political practice and examples of leadership. Another major point in the attitude of youth is the diminishing spirit of entrepreneurship and increasing behavior of rent seeking. Rather than defying corruption, nepotism and rent-seeking practices, the youth have found a way to adapt to these systems and help them foster in a direct or indirect way.

                                                                                                                                                     Youth and Economic Change                                                                                                                                                                    The mid nineties remained the most glorious days of Nepalese economy where Nepal was able to attain a considerably high growth rate. Following the liberalization that was initiated in nineties, Nepal had achieved a GDP growth rate of 7.9 in years 1993-94. However, the process was not fully institutionalized. This could have been one area where the youth could have played a strong role in ensuring sustainable economic growth that would in turn also help secure civil liberties. The youth was not able to show significant moral support to the process and help it institutionalize. Hence, as a result, liberalization and in turn, economic growth has remained a slow process. On the other hand, the spirit of entrepreneurship has not been as flourishing among youth (as it should be in order to influence long term economic change). "Job seeking" is still a preferred choice among the youth rather than "job creation". Though few examples of youth entrepreneurship have been seen in the recent times, such example needs to be in huge number for actual change to occur. Unless the young and energetic forces come up with innovation in many areas and a forward thinking attitude outside of the conventional system, their role in the larger change-making process will remain low.                                                                                            

Way forward                                                                                                                                                                                                      As mentioned before, the youth of today's Nepal are increasingly getting more educated, are better connected and have the power of new technology in their hands. Therefore, despite the prevailing challenges, the role of youth in bringing about an impactful change in Nepal's political and economic growth is significant. This can be achieved with few changes.

Changing Attitudes 

                                                                                                                                                                                             One of the important changes required for youth to be able to make an impact in the growth process is the change in attitude. For the group of youth who despite of having the potential to influence change, are apathetic towards politics, the change in attitude would mean doing away with the apathy and participating in the change. Similarly, the group of youth who are politically aware should utilize their political awareness in creating a large stake for themselves in the policy-making process as well. In this context, the youth should be more entrepreneurial and innovative in providing solutions where the state has clearly failed rather than waiting and expecting for the state to work on them.   

Demand for sustainable change rather than chanting the old slogans                                                                                           There have been plenty of examples where policy decisions based on gaining short term popularity gain have led to deep and far-fetching problems for the common Nepalese in both the political and economic spheres. The examples of this phenomenon can be seen in every aspect of the current day political and economic scenario ranging from numerous welfare programs to crucial aspects of economy such as fuel and electricity supply, fertilizer supply to farmers and many others. Hence, as youth are often associated with "out of the box" thinking, it is important that they bring this attitude to table when it comes to political economic change efforts in Nepal and demand for sustainable change. Rather than adapting to the prevailing incompetent systems which promote inefficiency, corruption and rent-seeking behavior, the youth have to go beyond the old popular slogan and understand the reality. Hence, the youth have to demand and work for things that bring about sustainable change.                                                                                                                            Educate other youth                                                                                                                                                                           As one of the challenges for youth involvement in change is the prevailing education system and social upbringing which does not encourage critical thinking and participation of youth on the higher level, youth have to involve and engage themselves in educating their peers and their younger generation. This is very important because when the youth are well-informed and voice better options in the political economic discourse, the leadership will be compelled to listen to them. ###








[1] Statistical Pocket Book, Central Bureau of Statistics, Government of Nepal.


[2] Nepal Labor Force Survey, 2008


[3] Large-Scale Migration and Remittances: Benefits and Costs. Hisanobu Shishido. Policy Cluster Leader. World Bank

[4] Nepal Migration Year Book, 2010. Nepal institute for Development Studies.


[5] Nepal Migration year Book, 2010. Nepal Institute for Development Studies.


[6] International Labor Organization. (2004), an overview paper on Overseas Employment in Nepal.


[7] Nepal Education in Figures,2011. Ministry of Education. Government of Nepal.





[10] Political Party Youth Wings in Nepal. The Carter Center. Feb. 2011.