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The scapegoat generation

Bipin Adhikari
The Kathmandu Post, 29 January, 2009
Source: The Kathmandu Post

A number of civil society organizations in Nepal are busy working on the rights of youths to be guaranteed in the new constitution. The Committee on Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles (CFRDP) at the Constituent Assembly (CA) seems to be keen to lay down some principles for the Constitutional Committee, the principal constitution drafting organ in the CA, in this regard.

Unfortunately, the youths of this country seem to be offering very little to the committee in terms of interest or input. It appears that youths' organizations have no youths' rights issues that need to be mentioned separately in the new constitution. What they generally have are the usual stuff like rights of women, dalits, indigenous people and federalism that civil rights groups have been emphasizing or some other political bags on behalf of political parties whose patronage they enjoy. Most of them think that their rights fall somewhere within these issues. They are not at the hub of the fundamental rights discourse where they should be as the country's largest political constituency. The "scapegoat" generation stands out in the political scenario as somebody to be taken for granted rather than doers for their own cause.

This trend does not appear to be confined to Nepal, however. On Jan. 25, Bolivia approved a new constitution through a national referendum -- promising vast new powers to the country's indigenous majority and bolstering the political clout of the leftist movement. This movement, which more or less follows in the footsteps of populist leftist allies like President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and Rafael Correa of Ecuador, has tried to enhance the interests of the indigenous groups that have been marginalized since the Spanish conquest 500 years ago. But it has ignored the rights of youths as an independent issue in the constitution which contains over 400 articles. Singling out Bolivia or its elite communist leaders does not serve any purpose because this habit of downplaying the rights of young people has defined the history of constitution making around the world.

Youths in Nepal not just make up a significant part of the national population, they are also a prime mover in bringing change in this country. Their empowerment is a crucial issue for the development of Nepal and its democratic future. But there has been little debate about their rights other than children's rights, educational opportunities and the right to employment, although all these issues are vital for their future.

Nepal is a society which is still not free from age restrictions. There is so much adult centrism in the legal political system. Issues of intergenerational equity has never been discussed here. There are constitutional restrictions against youths aspiring for major political and constitutional positions. The age of candidacy in electoral contests needs to be reconsidered keeping in view the growing numbers of smart and well-educated young professionals. Most of the fair labour standards that the present world is talking are important for the youths, and they must not be skipped when drafting the new constitution.

Even with regard to the right to education, no voice has been raised for alternative schooling. Certain norms are needed to guide the school authorities, meaningful student involvement, junk knowledge, sex education and student activism. A sense of nationalism must be inculcated in the youths. Additionally, the increasing problems of violence, drugs, alcoholism, teen pregnancy, mental illness and suicide have their own fundamental rights dimensions. It is a pity that these issues are being ignored at a time when they must be seriously looked into by the concerned constituencies.

A nation thrives on the constructive activism of its youths. Through history, young people have often been the force that challenges outdated traditions and reinvigorates society and culture. Furthermore, they are the people who will one day lead our society in all sectors. If general lethargy and fatalistic cynicism sets in permanently and persists, the pool of bright leaders and active citizen participants will recede. This has already been happening for many years now in the political sphere. Few able and well-educated people have been joining politics in this country recently.

In this context, it must be stated here that Nepal's youths need a guarantee that the state will protect them from political parties which have been radicalizing and politicizing them for their vested interests. Young people seem to be grossly negligent about how politicians, private interests, the media and invisible foreign hands have been unfairly making a scapegoat out of them. The Committee on Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles should be informed about this by the concerned sectors in order to give proper treatment to this matter in the new constitution.

These are just some of the basic issues which must be discussed. They may not attract the MTV generation of Nepal, which is not just self-centred but also materialistic, and probably knows the price of everything but the value of none having grown up in an era of opportunism (in its worst sense). Without a sense of history and informed nationalism, they are sure to become a generation lost in limbo.

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