Mumbai, Maharashtra; April 30, 2020: The 10to19 Dasra Adolescent Collaborative's Community of Practice recently hosted a webinar, ‘Voices from the Ground’, to spotlight adolescent focused needs and programming during COVID-19. Speakers included Dr Zoya Ali Rizvi, Deputy Commissioner (Adolescents Health), Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Govt. of India, Dr Rekha Rani Singh, Deputy Director cum State Nodal Officer RKSK, Govt. of Jharkhand, leaders from non-profits responding on frontlines, health care providers and an adolescent community champion. The webinar brought together over 170 individuals, ranging from those involved in relief work for adolescents to representatives of civil society organizations operating in remote geographies, and researchers exploring what works to address youth needs. Insights from this webinar and other forums reflect first-hand on-ground experiences, and suggest that adolescents have serious needs that must be addressed on an urgent basis once the lockdown is lifted.
Dr Zoya Ali Rizvi, Deputy Commissioner (Adolescent & Child Health), Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Govt. of India, emphasized, “Adolescent nutrition, health including mental, health, and domestic abuse are important areas for the government's adolescent health programme. During these times, frontline health workers have two supporting roles for adolescents; first, ensure three month’s supply of IFA and sanitary napkins is provided, second, report any kind of violence/domestic abuse faced by adolescents to helplines. Any kind of mental distress amongst them should also be reported on helplines like 104, 1098 or to NGOs with child protection programs. However, we do acknowledge that owing to the Covid 19 pandemic centric activities of ASHA adolescent health activities are hindered. Here, Civil Society Organizations can step in to create a system for distribution of basic services like sanitary pads/IFA/contraceptives.”
She further added, “Every member of the family should come together for all work; no work should be seen as gender specific. Parents and elders are equally challenged during these times. Communication between family members is key to solving for daily challenges.”
Among the issues raised, food insecurity, loss of wages and its effect on family resources have been articulated by many and were shared during the webinar as well. The experiences shared during the webinar highlighted the unique challenges and unmet needs that adolescents face compromising their wellbeing, and may have worrying consequences for their transitions to adulthood.
Priyanka Kumari, Girl Champion, Deoghar District, Jharkhand, explained, “Most of us are concerned about of our on-going and future education needs. We would like to continue the progress we’ve made and not drop out of school, or even worse fall prey to early marriage.”
Sushant Mihir Pathak, Program Manager, Quest Alliance, stated, “This is a health crisis, education crisis and economic crisis for adolescents. Established means for nutritious meals, reporting violence, education, interacting with peers have all halted.”
Adolescent-priority areas emerging during COVID-19:
High on adolescents' concerns was their anxiety about unmet education needs. While urban schools have transitioned into online classrooms, these facilities are not available to most rural adolescents. They are concerned that the break in schooling will result in more girls dropping out when school resumes, and may have negative effects on the learning outcomes of those who do return. Not being in school also means no mid-day meal and no interaction with peers. In the case of out-of-school/dropout adolescents, everything has reached a standstill as tuitions and peer groups are on hold.
Another repeated concern that emerged is the restriction that the social isolation period will place on girls’ mobility, being unable to access schools, services, entertainment, or spend time with friends. There is also additional pressure it will place on them to assist with household chores, and carry out other gendered activities.
Limited movement, combined with the lack of adequate education, physical activity, and the consequent increase in domestic abuse/violence can lead to mental distress; and the helplessness, anxiety and fear stemming from this can have a lifelong impact on their submission to violence in their adulthood. Without professional help or external intervention, this is causing a severe negative impact on adolescent mental health.
Inadequate delivery of nutrition and menstrual hygiene services is another area deeply impacting the health of adolescents. The unavailability, more generally, of other health-promoting supplies – pregnancy-related care, contraceptive supplies and abortion services also is hindered. While information about safety measures and health-promoting practices are distributed via Facebook and WhatsApp, not all adolescents, especially girls, have easy access to smartphones and may be excluded from the reach of this information.
Owing to the economic downturn caused by COVID-19, it is expected that adolescents just out of college transitioning into jobs will face challenges in finding and retaining employment. Many adolescents are seeking ways of making adjustments to their skills and knowledge in order to match industry requirements. Many adolescents will also be forced to drop out of school and take up easily available jobs, to assist their families to cope with the financial crisis.
While many unmet needs were articulated, encouraging signs of the resilience of the young, and innovative action in spite of the lockdown were also described. Girl champions accompany frontline workers, in some areas, to deliver messages of safety and allay fears within the community. Girls have taken the initiative to prepare face masks for family and neighbors. They have also created WhatsApp groups to promote and circulate health and safety-related information, raise concerns, and report instances of violence or abuse.
Addressing the unmet needs of the young is a priority. We cannot let the huge advances we have made thus far – in accelerating girls’ (and boy’s) education, delaying child marriage, addressing reproductive health needs and building agency – be dissipated.
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About 10to19 Dasra Adolescents Collaborative
The 10to19 Dasra Adolescents Collaborative is a high-impact platform that unites funders, technical experts, government and social organizations to reach 5 million adolescents and move the needle on outcomes key to adolescent empowerment. The Collaborative is an outcomes-led, national platform that aligns the expertise and perspectives of multiple stakeholders, across national, state and local levels, to ensure sustainable empowerment for 5 million adolescents in India, through transformative efforts. The key outcomes for 10to19 DAC link to broader Sustainable Development Goals relating to health and well-being, equitable education and gender equality. 10to19 DAC pursues adolescent empowerment by aligning efforts towards four key outcomes:
Delayed age of marriage
Delayed age of pregnancy
Improved secondary education
About 10to19 Dasra Adolescents Collaborative Community of Practice
The 10to19 Community of Practice is a network of organizations that works to position adolescents at the center of the national health and development agenda by ensuring sector-wide issues are addressed through narrative change and collaboration, creating a collective voice for the sector to advocate for the government and serving as a learning platform and support network for knowledge and insights on adolescent issues and programming. The 10to19 Community of Practice currently operates at the state level in Jharkhand and the national level, with over 200 participant organizations.