Invest in youths to reap benefit from demographic dividend: UN

  • synopsis of population situation analysis of nepal 2017
- RUPAK D SHARMA, Kathmandu

Jul 31, 2017-

Nepal must prioritise investment in education, work skills, empowerment and employment to reap maximum benefit from the demographic dividend, a latest report prepared by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) says.

The demographic dividend began in Nepal in 1995, with the growth of the working-age population surpassing the growth of total population. This trend is expected to continue till 2047.

Demographic dividend generally results in rapid economic growth because of decline in a country’s mortality and fertility rates. Fertility in Nepal fell by 63 percent in between 1976 and 2014 from 6.3 children per woman to 2.3, prompted by a desire for smaller families and better access to contraception. On the other hand, life expectancy at birth increased from 54 years in 1991 to 66.6 years in 2011, with crude death rate hovering around 7 per 1,000 persons.

graph source: United Nations Population Fund

With fewer births each year, a country’s young dependent population grows smaller in size in relation to the working-age population, freeing more people to work. 

With fewer people to support, a country stands a chance of embarking on rapid economic growth provided favourable social and economic policies are framed and adequate investments are made.

Demographic changes in the past decades have led to creation of a big pool of young people aged 10-24 in Nepal. This group comprises  adolescents aged 10-19 and youths aged 15-24. 

In 2011, 32.8 percent of Nepal’s population comprised adolescents and youths, according to the National Population and Housing Census 2011 of the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS). Although the proportion of young people is expected to drop in the next 15 years, it will remain above 25 percent until 2031, CBS data show.

This group of young people offers Nepal a window of opportunity because these cohorts, if provided with learning and work opportunities, can jumpstart economic growth and development, says the UNFPA report.

But, unfortunately, a majority of this cohort is growing up in poor rural areas and urban slums, according to the report. In these environments, these adolescents and youths lack access to proper education and healthcare services. These young people also do not find jobs easily and cannot migrate for employment purpose with ease as it is “beyond their reach”.

Yet this group of people has “higher expectations for self-direction, freedom, and opportunity, as the information age has taught them about their human rights and given them a broader vision of what their lives could be”.

“Therefore, well-being and positive social participation of these adolescents and youth hinge on commitments of the government to protect their human rights, develop their capabilities, secure their sexual and reproductive health, uphold their reproductive rights, prepare them for productive and creative activities, and reward them for their labours,” says the report. 

In this regard, investments in human development, targeting adolescents and youth, are most critical to ensure they have the “capabilities and opportunities to define their futures and to spur innovations needed for a sustainable future”.

These investments and support are very critical because decline in fertility that followed the birth of today’s adolescents and youths means they must become “self-supporting and thrive, for there will be no larger, younger cohort to support them as they themselves age, and they can be expected to live to an advanced age, given increasing life expectancy”.

To ensure that these young people become assets for the country, lifelong investment in health and education is crucial, says the report.

“Lack of education and ill health are most common risk factors that can lead to poverty, and curtail economic growth and human wellbeing, and limit the capability of both individuals and societies to innovate and thrive in a changing world,” says the report.

But investment in education and healthcare should not only focus on men, as 53 percent of the working-age population—aged 15-64—in Nepal comprises of women. Despite this fact, many women in the country are not given ample opportunities and choice to live a life of dignity and freedom, because Nepali patriarchal society and many socio-cultural norms are discriminatory.

“So, the opportunity to enrich the lives of young people, including males and females, and enable them to expand their individual choices and shape an innovative and sustainable future is now,” says the report.

As societies age, a phenomenon occurring in Nepal now, the legacies of under-education persist, underscoring the need for a lifelong approach to education. Such an approach will enable older persons to contribute to changing economies, thereby providing a second demographic dividend via an engaged, experienced and well-trained older workforce, adds the report.

Published: 31-07-2017 07:58

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