The Bill on the National Youth Council: A review

Around 38.8 percent, a substantial chunk, of Nepal’s population lies within the age group of 16 to 40. Sadly, a sizeable majority of those in this age group, particularly the younger ones, find themselves in despair because of the lack of sufficient

Jan. 30, 2015, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol: 08 No. -15 January. 30- 2015 (Magh 16, 2071)

No country can make progress without engaging the creative energies of its youth in the economy but also in policy-level decision-making. This is especially true for a country like Nepal that has for a long time remained trapped within a vicious cycle of poverty. But, sadly, the economic mismanagement of the country—which has resulted in the lack of employment opportunities and a desirable standard of living for the general populace—continues to drive hundreds of thousands of young people to foreign countries in search of better opportunities.

Around 38.8 percent, a substantial chunk, of Nepal’s population lies within the age group of 16 to 40. Sadly, a sizeable majority of those in this age group, particularly the younger ones, find themselves in despair because of the lack of sufficient economic and other opportunities. The youth manpower of the country is being wasted like its water resources. Given that human resource is the biggest asset for any country, the lack of social, political, and economic vision has, it can be argued, victimised the country as well as its youth.

Until now, the Nepali youth have also been sidelined from policy-level decision-making. Although they had been heavily involved in and had played pivotal roles in bringing about the political changes of the most recent decade, the youth have been marginalised ever since, and their energy, determination, and creativity pushed to the side. It has been a while since Nepal emerged from a decade-long conflict. Precisely speaking, eight years have passed since the peace process started. However, the Nepali people—the young, in particular—have not yet seen the promised benefits of that process. Meanwhile, the country, arguably, is still directionless in regards to social and economic development.

Furthermore, during the 10 years of conflict, the youth were victimised in large numbers. Many young people suffered human-rights abuses, sexual violence, and torture. Till today, however, the state has not taken any positive steps to give them justice or compensation. This is a great tragedy.

The fact that nation-building in any state is impossible without widespread participation of the youth is self-evident. Furthermore, in the context of Nepal, if the youth are not given the right opportunities and if they are excluded from nation-building, lasting peace will not be possible. The ongoing political process cannot be stabilised without giving employment and self-confidence to the young people of this country. It is essential for these purposes to mobilise the creative energies of the youth, which in turn requires the state to play a supportive role for youth involvement. The state is thus responsible for incubating laws, policies, and government bodies that allow the widespread participation of young people in nation-building. Without state intervention through legislation and policy, meaningful participation of the youth is not realistic.

Nepal’s Interim Constitution, through article 35 (20), makes a clear provision that asks the state to create an environment where the youth can be mobilised for developing the nation. Sadly, even after so many years since the Interim Constitution came into effect, this important provision has not been effectively implemented. All provisions in the Constitution are equally important and it is the responsibility of the state to implement them all. In order to bring the intent of the above-mentioned provision to fruition, the state must begin by creating the necessary laws and policy to mobilise the nation’s youth. This is the state’s constitutional duty.

Finally, it is important that the state and its actors, in following the prescription given above, remember that the Nepali youth is not a homogenous body. There is a lot of diversity. In general, one could argue that the rural youth are worse off than the urban youth. Those among the rural youth are even more deprived from the services that the state should be providing to them. The average level of education and literacy is minimal for that group. Other indicators also show that they are lagging behind. Within this category, the situation of the youth from Dalit, Madhesi, and indigenous communities is even worse. Thus, when the state makes laws and policies, it is necessary to keep in mind this diversity. By giving opportunities to those who have been deprived, the state needs to strive towards an inclusive and just society.

Notable point in the proposed Bill:

* A National Youth Council, under the leadership of either the Minister for sports or the State Minister, has been envisioned. Provisions have been made for the vice chairman of the Council to be chosen by the Government of Nepal, and for the secretaries of various ministries to be chosen as members of the Council. Of all the members, nine are to be chosen from various youth organisations, six are to be chosen based on their contribution to the protection of the rights and best interest of the youth (such that these members are inclusive with regards to youth from indigenous communities, Madhesis, Dalits, the differently-abled, minorities, and marginalised groups), and four are to be chosen from among entrepreneurs, peasants, and athletes. A provision has been kept for one additional member to act as the executive director.

* Section 6 of the Bill outlines the rights and responsibilities of the Council. According to this provision, these include: creating long-term plans and policy related to the youth and lobbying for their implementation with the government, working closely with the government’s policy initiatives to create and implement plans and programs for the youth, determining terms and conditions for the institutions to which the Council maintains affiliation, determining an effective policy to mobilise young people as volunteers, determining and allocating the budget of the Council, giving suggestions to the government about youth development and empowerment, and determining the number and types of employees needed for the Council to operate smoothly.

* An executive committee has been envisioned for the Council, in which the vice chairman of the Council would act as chairman. Two people, including at least one female, are to be elected to the position of executive director by the Council, from among the members of the Council and the joint secretaries working in the following ministries, departments, and commissions: youth department of the Ministry of Youth and Sports, the Ministry of Labour and Employment, and the National Planning Commission.    

* A provision has been kept in the Bill for the formation of district youth committees, a maximum of one per district, in order to plan and organise programs for the youth at the district level. According to the provision, a chairperson of such a committee shall be someone who has completed bachelor’s-level education and has worked in the interest of the youth at the local level for more than five years. Representatives from various district-level offices—administration, development, education, and women’s empowerment—shall be chosen as members. Additionally, other members would include two people, including at least one female, from institutions affiliated with such committees, and five others, including at least one female, from among young people that have made special contributions for the youth and for society. District-level organisations of commerce and industry shall also be represented. Finally, the provision states that a head of a district youth committee office shall also act as its member secretary.

* A provision in the Bill defines those between the ages of 16 and 40 as the youth.

* The Bill has defined a special category, ‘youth from special communities’, for those among the youth who are victims of conflict, belong to marginalised/minority groups, and who are differently-abled.    

* The Ministry of Youth and Sports, according to the Bill, shall form a recommendation committee under the leadership of the secretary of the Ministry, in order to recommend names for the post of vice-chairman for the Council.

* A provision requires the Council to follow any directives that the Government of Nepal may give for its improvement or in regards to its operations.

* The members of the Council, whose tenures cannot exceed four years, shall be recommended by the Ministry, according to the Bill.

* The Bill has vested the executive youth committee with some executive rights. For example, it can perform the following activities: run campaigns to mobilise the youth in development, conduct youth development while remaining within the policy guidelines approved by the Council, organise programs related to youth mobilisation and empowerment, conduct awareness programs, draft budgets, build capacity of youth related organisations, etc.

* The district youth committees have been vested with the following executive rights and responsibilities: planning and organising activities at the local level while remaining within the policy guidelines approved by the Council, coordinating various activities with local-level organisations, identifying and mobilising resources to conduct programs for the youth at the local level, etc.  

Weak points in the Bill:

* Although section 4 (1) of the Bill mentions that the Council shall be an autonomous body, no other provision in the Bill attempts to solidify this autonomy. Instead, many other provisions attempt to bring this body under the control of the Ministry. For example, there is a provision, section 5 (3), for the Ministry to nominate the members of the Council. Section 5 says that the vice chairman and members of the Council can be removed at any point in time. Section 29 (1) (2) says that the Council must comply with the directives given by the Government of Nepal. Finally, there is a provision through which the Government of Nepal can dissolve the Council at any point in time.

* The above-mentioned points make it seem as if the Council has been envisioned to be a weak body that will work under the umbrella of the Ministry. A weak institution like that cannot work for the widespread empowerment of the youth. For that, it is necessary to create a Youth Council that is powerful.

* The Council, as currently envisioned, has a tendency towards bureaucratisation. A number of secretaries of various ministries have been kept as members in the Council. Under such conditions, the organisation is bound to become inefficient, as a result of which youth empowerment will not be possible. The bureaucratic nature of the organisation will also prevent youth leadership from developing within the organisation. There is a also a good possibility, given how nominations are to be made, that the Council will end up becoming another institution through which political parties can keep their cadres happy by giving them prominent roles.

* The definition of the youth given in this Bill is problematic. Going by the UN definition, only those between 15 and 24 years of age are considered to be part of the youth. Only under special circumstances does the UN consider those up to 30 years of age as belonging to the youth. Setting the limit at 40 is absurd.

* Section 5 (4) says that the members of the Council will have a tenure that is no longer than four years. This is also problematic. This provision will cause the members of the Council to change completely, in an untimely manner, based on which party controls the Ministry. Under such circumstances, the Council cannot remain independent.

* The Bill lacks a rights-based approach in envisioning the Council that it seeks to establish. It doesn’t attempt to guarantee various rights for the youth, such as: right to participation, right to provide meaningful consultation, and the right to decide for oneself. Instead of envisioning the Council as a body that makes various recommendation to the government—on matters such as rights, empowerment, and development of the youth—the Bill has presented it as a body that will simply follow orders from the government.

* The provisions in the Bill tend to bureaucratise the executive committee of the Council as well. How can youth leadership develop under such circumstances?  

* Even the recommendation committee of the Council has been kept under the leadership of the secretary of the Ministry. With such provisions, the bureaucracy will definitely reign supreme over the Council.

* Any potential for autonomy left in the Council is adversely affected by the provision that allows for dissolving the Council.

* The extent of the Council’s authority has been undermined by the Bill. For example, the Council has not been given the independent authority or the capacity to plan and implement its own policies and activities.

Recommendations:

* The bill needs to be rewritten, and its goals revisited and clarified. A new draft of the legislation should embody a rights-based approach in order to establish a powerful Youth Council that can create sufficient opportunities for the youth.

* The definition of ‘youth’ should be changed to agree with the internationally accepted standard.

* The Council must be given a definite tenure for a fixed duration of time. Any provision that allows it to be dissolved at whim should be removed. Such provisions can lead to excessive interference from political parties.

* In order to make the Council independent and powerful, provisions must be added to improve the processes for appointing members and position-holders. The recommendation committee must be formed under the leadership of an independent person. The members of the Council should be nominated as per the recommendation of this committee rather than that of the Ministry.

* Under the proposed legislation, there is a tendency towards bureaucratisation. Under such circumstances, youth leadership cannot be developed. Any provision that strengthens such tendencies must therefore be removed. 

* The category of ‘youth from special communities’ brings together those among the youth that have radically different circumstances (victims of conflict, marginalised groups, the differently-abled). Perhaps separate categories should be established. 

* The adequate representation of women has not been guaranteed by the Bill. As per the provision for proportional representation of women in the Interim Constitution, the Bill must guarantee a fifty percent representation for women in the Council. In appointing female members and position holders to the Council, diversity must also be taken into consideration. For example, rural women, Dalits, those from indigenous communities and minority groups, Madhesis, etc. must also be represented.

* The Bill makes a provision for the Ministry to appoint the executive director. In order to give the Council more autonomy, it must be given the right to make this appointment.

This research and recommendation paper prepared by attorney Dinesh Tripathi for the Nepal Constitutional Foundation has been finalised based on the inputs given by various pressure groups: women’s, ethnicity-based, Dalit, Madeshi, youth, and others. The Constitutional Foundation would like to thank Arun Sharma, Aang Dawa Sherpa, Kabindra Burlakoti, Prem Raj Joshi, Tilottama Poudel, Rita Shrestha, Nabina Lama, Kiran Gupta, Srijana Bhatta, Nabin K.C., Malati Rokaya, Nur Dangol, Aashik Ram Karki, Kamal Bohora, Prakash Shahi, Uma Kanta Sharma as well as Ganesh Datta Bhatta, Dr Bipin Adhikari, and B.P Bhandari.

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