Lost in Lockdown: Chronicling the impact of COVID-19 on Adolescents in India

I happened to read the latest report by The 10to19: Dasra Adolescents Collaborative. The report titled ‘ Lost in Lockdown: Chronicling the Impact of COVID-19 on India’s Adolescents’ highlights the ways in which the lockdown and pandemic have affected various dimensions of the lives of young people mainly education, livelihoods, social isolation, mental health, exposure to violence, reproductive health and child marriage, as well as access to food and health services.

About the research sample & design

  • Out of the 350 adolescent- or youth-serving organizations that were contacted for the survey, 111 organizations participated.
  • A conservative estimate of the number of boys and girls suggest that taken together, responding organisations served about 32 lakh adolescents.
  • More than half worked in both rural and urban areas (57%), with one-third (32%) working exclusively in rural areas, and one in eight (12%) focused only in urban areas.

Immediate Impact of COVID-19 and lockdowns

  • Most households served by reporting organizations had suffered the socioeconomic fallout of the lockdown in terms of food insecurity and loss of livelihoods.
  • Three in four organizations reported that lack of food or rations (75%) and loss of livelihoods (76%) had affected the large majority of families served.
  • One-quarter acknowledged that some but not the majority of families had been affected (23%).
  • Return migration had affected households. 95% responding organisations reported that many (63%) or some (32%) households in the areas they served contained returning migrants.
  • One fifth had suspended virtually all activities (19%), while others suggested that they had diverted their usual program and were working solely on emergency-related activities (36%).

The survey asked each organization about its familiarity with experiences of various forms of disadvantage that had affected young people they served following the initiation of the lockdown. Mainly around the following themes:

All educational institutions were ordered closed as a result of the nationwide lockdown, denying students their mid-day meal, access to friendship networks, and access to learning. For some girls, the temporary suspension of schooling may result in premature school discontinuation. Moreover, the lack of access to appropriate devices and the lack of network access among many students is a critical challenge, disrupting overall levels of learning and widening socioeconomic disparities. Furthermore, this has given rise to child labour and COVID-induced child marriages among these communities.

  1. 28% of students reported going hungry because their mid-day meal had stopped being served
  2. 69% complained about the loss of friendship networks or access to opportunities
  3. 10–12% of organisations reported that most boys and girls in the areas they served had access to an appropriate device, 10% cent reported that boys and girls had regular network access.
  4. 80% reported that only some of the students in the areas they served had access to an appropriate device, only 77% had regular network access.
  5. This has directly increased child labour among adolescents. 43% organizations reported that since the lockdown, they had become aware of at least one girl participating in their programmes whose parents planned to withdraw them from school; 32% were aware of more than one such experience in order to take responsibility for housework while parents earn, or engage in the economic activity themselves in order to contribute to household income.
  6. Lack of access to education has also increased COVID-induced child marriages. 33%of reporting organisations had been alerted about a girl whose marriage was about to be performed or was being planned, and 36% reported being approached by a girl who was being forced to marry against her will. Overall, 21% had encountered a boy under the age of 21, whose marriage was about to be performed or planned, and 14% had encountered a boy forced to marry against his will.

Some actions taken by responding organization address these challenges:

  1. The action was taken by 84 organizations to address disruption in schooling following the imposition of the lockdown
  2. Some include creating online material, creatin
    g WhatsApp groups for teaching, holding in-person, on-phone or online teaching and group sessions etc.
  3. Still, 21.4% did not take (rather, could not) take any action to address these gaps/challenges.

While in general, many young people are anxious about their futures, the difficulties imposed on education, changing examination schedules, and employment prospects as a result of the pandemic make these anxieties particularly acute.

  1. 41% of boys and girls had approached a (responding) organization’s staff member citing that since lockdown they had developed fears about their future education or career.
  2. 22–26% of organisations were familiar with young people reporting fears about their future even before the lockdown was imposed as well as thereafter.
  3. Suicidal thoughts among adolescents were recorded. One in twenty organisations reported that since the lockdown was imposed, they had become aware of a boy or girl who was contemplating suicide.
  4. Moreover, 40% of adolescents were concerned about the fear of death and wellbeing of their family members.

Some actions taken by responding organization address these challenges:

  1. 68% encouraged & supported the peer educators/leaders from each community to provide information and conduct activities where possible with groups of young people.
  2. 51% build the capacity of frontline workers to address stress and other concerns expressed by the young.
  3. 36% offered helpline services, either operated by themselves or another agency or prepared and distributed written material on stress management for the young.
  4. 25% prepared and distributed apps that included a reference to stress management and other mental health concerns.
  5. Other (7%) actions taken include establishing a mentoring programme, chatbot or information centre; and making referrals and raising awareness of PRI members and other stakeholders. For example, organisations worked with adolescents to encourage creative expressions of concerns through poetry, writing, and art to disseminating creativity kits to help them share fears and emotions. Others have put in place services to help adolescents grapple with the crisis, and have also provided them safe spaces to share fears and mental trauma, both online, through WhatsApp and Facebook groups, and telephone platforms. Several have shared inputs on how to keep adolescents engaged through small activities, and leveraged virtual training kits and tools developed by UNICEF and ChildLine India to ensure that adolescents can keep their mental health in check. Some have begun providing tele-counselling services, supplemented by information-sharing on mental wellbeing through social media (such as Tik Tok and Instagram).

Domestic violence has spiralled since the lockdown. Calls to helplines relating to the experience of violence have increased following the lockdown, with the Childline India helpline receiving more than 90,000 violence-related calls in just the first 11 days of the lockdown.

  1. 25% of organizations reported an increase since the lockdown was imposed in the number of girls or young woman who approached them because a parent, family member or husband had perpetrated physical violence on them, that is, slapped, beaten or kicked them, thrown things at them, or done anything else to physically hurt them.
  2. Other forms of violence also reported including cyberbullying, use of social media to distribute incriminating or morphed pictures of a girl, spreading of rumours about a girl etc
  3. There has been almost a 10% rise in the reporting of such incidents since lockdown. While about 70% of such incidents are never reported altogether.

Some actions taken by responding organization address these challenges:

  1. 69% of the responding organizations have trained filed staff to provide counselling in such matters.
  2. Few textually identified innovations in their programmes that are geared towards increasing awareness about issues surrounding domestic violence and providing resources to help youth navigate instances of violence.
  3. Online innovations have included, for example, the establishment of an online fellowship programme, that engages adolescents on issues surrounding gender & violence against women and girls and its manifestation during the lockdown, and online engagement of adolescents, with a focus on encouraging them to take action where possible.
  4. Other in-person innovations have focused on ensuring peer networks stay connected like forming “whisper groups” to identify cases of gender-based violence at the community level.

Findings confirm that large proportions of youth-serving organisations had encountered young people who expressed difficulty in accessing a range of services, esp about sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services

  1. 43% of organisations reported that girls in their programmes had experienced difficulty in accessing sanitary napkins since the lockdown was imposed (but not earlier), while almost one in three (31%) reported chronic shortages,
  2. Weekly Iron and Folic Acid Supplementation (WIFS) was likely suspended as a result of the lockdown and almost 31% and 18% of organisations reported that it had come to their notice that girls and boys, respectively, had not received regular supplies of IFA tablets since the lockdown was imposed.
  3. Another 24% reported chronic shortages of supplies.

Some actions taken by responding organization address these challenges:

  1. Working with local health care providers, informing district authorities, arranging consultations for specialised services, and sharing details of free telemedicine services that could be used if services were unavailable.
  2. 13% of these challenges could not be surmounted and organizations were unable to support the individual in acquiring services.
  3. Several found innovative ways of continuing work on sexuality education for the young.
  4. Some have worked with peer educators to make SRHR information accessible to adolescents at home. ensuring that these services are made accessible to persons with intellectual or developmental disabilities.
  5. Others have used both virtual platforms and traditional media to translate their sex education curricula for the young. For example, they have conducted online classes using their established curriculum, and, accounting for the uneven spread of the internet, also transmitted SRHR-related information through radio programmes.

The responses to the survey draw attention to the various programmatic challenge areas, as well as the innovations that organizations have put into place to combat the immediate and medium-term impact of the COVID-19 crisis. These findings suggest that while civil society organizations in some cases have been able to reduce the impact of the lockdown and the COVID-19 crisis, adolescents are, and continue to remain in need of urgent attention as a demographic. With up to 75% of responding organizations reporting a loss of livelihoods and limited access to food and rations, it is clear that programmatic pivots are urgent and necessary.

  1. Special efforts are required to overcome socio-economic and gender disparities and existing inequities in access to and quality of education
  2. New methodologies, including the use of multimedia educational resources such as audio and video clips.
  3. Leverage technology to enable close monitoring of young people at risk of dropping out of schools through this period.
  4. Organizations must engage parents and re-emphasize the value of completing an education in the context of ongoing economic stressors for families, especially for girls who are at risk for dropping out of school and being forced into early marriage.
  5. Supplement the existing education curriculum with additional content to ensure that adolescents develop the skills to be resilient.
  6. Including subjects like life skills, awareness of laws, rights and entitlements, government schemes and programs targeted towards adolescents, gender empowerment and technological and IT skills along with cyber safety and leadership skills.
  7. Modify cash transfer opportunities to keep adolescents, especially girls, in school whenever necessary.
  1. Building emotional resilience, enabling access to support and addressing insecurities and vulnerabilities, especially surrounding the uncertainty of the pandemic
  2. Facilitating virtual peer group and social interactions wherever possible,
  3. Providing strategies to manage negative emotions, and, in the longer run, build self-reliance among youth.
  4. Develop better and more comprehensive online counselling and other tools for psychosocial support.
  5. Services such as helplines must be appropriately staffed and equipped to meet adolescent needs.
  6. Build more Adolescent Friendly Health Clinics (AFHC)
  7. Strengthen existing programmes, such as the counselling facilities provided through the RKSK’s Adolescent Friendly Health Centres.
  8. Encouraging greater openness in discussing fears and mental health problems.
  1. Restoration of SRH (Sexual, reproductive health) supplies, services and rights.
  2. Build capacities of frontline workers, including training ASHAs and AWWs to use technology and provide healthcare information digitally.
  3. Train peer educators and FLWs to identify early warning signs for mental and physical health problems.
  4. Engage other health care providers, including AFHC counsellors and peer educators in providing, through school- and community- based interaction, SRH information, distributing supplies, and making appropriate referrals.
  5. Build awareness on issues affecting adolescents within communities and especially among parent making use of parent group sessions, digital tools designed for parents and one-on-one sessions led by community volunteers.
  6. Monitoring and tracking of health indicators with particular reference to the adolescent and youth sub-populations is essential in order to understand the extent to which the pandemic and lockdown have affected their well-being in diverse areas, ranging from nutrition and anaemia management to pregnancy-related services, sexually transmitted infections, violence and so on.
  1. More investment is needed to develop, run, and maintain digital/telephonic interventions that are accessible and adolescent- responsive.
  2. FLWs, peer educators, teachers, PRI members and community members in positions of authority may be trained and engaged in identifying those at risk and linking them to appropriate sources of support.
  3. Additionally, at the community level, efforts must be made to raise awareness about child abuse, domestic violence and sexual abuse.
  4. Mass awareness campaigns in partnership with civil society organizations on the risks of early marriage, child labour, abuse, etc. and laws relating to these may be useful.
  5. Digital messaging options and consistent one-on-one efforts by FLWs, teachers, members of Village- Level Child Protection Committees and others in positions of authority may also be useful.
  6. Undertake capacity building, including training for the community- based safety groups, Village-Level Child Protection Committees, resource persons at helplines, and frontline workers to identify early warning signs of abuse or violence, and those at risk of a child, early or forced marriage.

It’s interesting to note that many organisations, since March, have stated that employment and support for young migrants — especially those stranded remotely and away from their families — is an essential part of their work in the present and in the months to come. As we already know, the lockdown has put many household members out of work and forced migrant workers to return to their home states. Furthermore, it has significantly impacted the lives of adolescents who are bound to leave education, take up work to supplement the family income and continue being trapped in the cycle of poverty.

* All images have been clicked by me in Farrukhabad, Uttar Pradesh as part of program.

  1. Originally published at https://enhfoundation.in on August 18, 2020.

Poet | Writer I Researcher| IR Scholar |Senior Manager & Dev Professional // Stealing moments to be w kids on field https://thebigfatpoet.com/ @thebigfatpoet