Fears for global youth increase as pandemic impacts health and opportunities

The global north south divide has widened in the past two years as the pandemic marginalises millions of young people  a new study has warned.

Research led by a team from Oxford University has found young people in developing countries are struggling to cope and going hungry, even more than ever.

While some countries are recovering and rebuilding, the 20-year-long study by Young Lives, shows that the pandemic threatens to lock-in inequalities, trapping the poorest young people in developing countries in extreme poverty.

While some countries are recovering and rebuilding, the research showed the pandemic threatens to lock-in inequalities, trapping the poorest young people in developing countries in extreme poverty

According to the study, increasing household poverty, food shortages, disrupted education, a widening gender employment gap, unequal vaccine access and sustained mental health issues, are impacting ever more young people.

Young Lives Director Dr Catherine Porter said: “Our latest findings confirm our worst fears. Two years on, the pandemic has tightened poverty’s grip on the poorest. In 2021, inequalities have widened across many aspects of young people’s lives. It is vital to act now, putting young people at the heart of COVID-19 recovery policies and programmes if we are to help them get their lives back on track and restore progress towards the [UN’s] Sustainable Development Goals.”

Since 2001, Young Lives, an internationally renowned research programme at Oxford University, funded by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), has followed the lives of 12,000 children in Ethiopia, India (Telangana and Andhra Pradesh), Peru and Vietnam.

Dr Porter added: “Our research has found that young people are having to cope with multiple stresses as a result of the pandemic, often alongside unprecedented conflict and climate crises. Urgent action is required to support them recover. Young Lives will publish recommendations for policy makers later in March 2022.”

The project has continued to contact the young people (now aged 20 and 27) by phone during the pandemic. In the latest survey, researchers interviewed more than 9000 young people, between October and December 2021, about the pandemic’s impact on their household income, access to food and vaccines, employment, education and well-being.

The researchers found the number of households in the survey that are struggling has increased during the pandemic. Young people from poor households and marginalised groups appear trapped in deep pockets of poverty, unable to bounce back – despite economic restrictions easing.

In terms of food security, last year the number of young people worried about running out of food increased substantially, particularly those living in the poorest households and among marginalised groups.  There was acute food insecurity in drought prone regions in Ethiopia.

The research also found that worryingly high levels of mental health issues among young people have sustained or increased over the course of the pandemic

Young Lives students reported a significant decline in the quality of education. Just under half of all Young Lives 19-20 year old students reported that the quality of their learning had declined compared to before the pandemic (55% in Vietnam, 51% in Peru, 47% in India and 30% in Ethiopia).  Continued school closures, a persistent digital divide and low effectiveness of remote learning are widening educational inequalities and increasing drop out.

Unequal vaccination rates both between countries and within countries are putting those in poorer, rural households and marginalised groups at greater risk of COVID-19, it warned.

“Vaccination programmes accelerated over the second half of 2021 in India, Peru and Vietnam, with 65%, 57% and 62% of young people in our survey having received at least one dose by October-December 2021, respectively,” added the research. “But in Ethiopia, vaccine uptake remains very low, with only 3% receiving their first dose by October-December 2021, and 29% saying they would not get a vaccine if available.”

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