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Monday, October 18, 2021
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, Sep 29 2021 (IPS) - Most families in the Republic of Tajikistan were affected when economic migrants were caught up in the COVID-19 pandemic abroad, Dr Vazirov Jamshed, research consultant for Asian Forum of Parliamentarians on Population and Development (AFPPD), told a webinar on the impact of the pandemic on youth.
In a predominantly agriculturally driven economy, he said, many young people seek employment abroad – mainly in the Russian Federation and other countries.
When the pandemic lockdowns started, these workers found themselves without jobs, and the remittances that once “accounted for 30 percent of the country’s GDP in 2019 had declined by half in 2021”.
These were not the only young economic migrants left without means and often without access to basic services abroad.
Sangeet Kayastha, AFFPD research consultant from Nepal, said it was estimated that 20 percent of Nepalese abroad were at risk of being unemployed.
“They have not received their wages and other benefits and are deprived of access to basic services, including health facilities,” he told the forum. While the government had promoted the repatriation of migrant workers, this was “at their own cost”.
The webinar, hosted by Asian Forum of Parliamentarians on Population and Development (AFPPD) and Asian Population and Development Association (APDA), heard of the devastating impacts of the pandemic on young people. While many agreed, there were success stories, the closure of educational institutions, the reliance on online schooling in countries where connectivity was poor and expensive, and the impact on micro, small and medium businesses meant that the youth was badly affected.
Professor Keizo Takemi, MP for Japan and chair of AFPPD, shared a story of volunteer youth activism, started by an Indian member of parliament, that saved the lives of over 10 000 patients through coordinating medical service provides and beds at medical facilities with those in need.
However, he also sounded the alarm that COVID-19 had created an “inequality pandemic”, with rising disparities in and between countries.
Björn Andersson, Regional Director, UNFPA APRO, reiterated that there was a need to understand “that the pandemic displaced many. Inequalities were exacerbated”, and vulnerable people, including youth, were severely impacted.
UNFPA had driven change by working with a regional youth network to develop national helplines for COVID-19 support, sexual and reproductive health, family planning and HIV services in more than 20 countries in the region. It also established GBV helpline and helplines focused on mental health and opened143 women and youth-friendly spaces were developed in several countries.
Nevertheless, the pandemic had created a considerable gap. One of the challenges was that in governments’ attempts to grapple with the pandemic’s threats, youth issues were not prioritised, even in countries with progressive youth policies.
Vazirov said Tajikistan was not ready for online education. The literacy rate is high, however, many young people could not continue their education during the lockdown due to the pandemic because of poor infrastructure and comparatively low connection of most of the population to reliable internet.
“The price for the intent is the highest, not only in the region but in the world if you compare the income levels and internet costs,” he said.
Nandinchimeg Magsar, a research consultant for Mongolia, noted that from February 3, 2020, all levels of education shifted to non-classroom training such as TV lessons and online learning.
This became a challenge as only three out of five students could attend their TV lessons regularly, and 15% could not participate in their lessons for various reasons, including a lack of TV or internet.
Anna Marie Alhambra, a research consultant for the Philippines, said that most students were involved in modular or distance learning. “This involves the use of gadgets, and according to a survey, the lack of access to these gadgets was the main reason why some students could not enrol in their schools.”
She also expressed concern that a survey conducted by UNICEF indicated that parents observed that children learnt a little less with online learning compared with face-to-face classes.
The consultants agreed that youth need to become at the forefront in all countries in terms of priority and involvement in future policy development.
Alhambra said pre-pandemic youth unemployment had been decreasing in the Philippines, but COVID-19 set that back.
“It was 14.7% in July 2019 and was 22.4% in July 2020. This means that 1.7 million Filipino youth are unemployed. During the lockdown, youth working in wholesale, retail, food service, construction, transportation, and storage were most affected because everyone was asked to stay at home. Highly disturbing is that there is still a 14% reduction in working hours which means less income and less economic activity for the youth,” she said.
Magsar said from February 3, 2020, all levels of education in Mongolia shifted to non-classroom training such as TV lessons and online learning. Only three out of five students could attend their TV lessons regularly, and 15% could not participate in their lessons for various reasons, including a lack of TV or internet.
In the Philippines, Alhambra said, most students were involved in modular or distance learning. This involves the use of gadgets, and according to a survey, the “lack of access to these gadgets was the main reason some students could not enrol in their schools”. A survey conducted by UNICEF indicated that parents observed that children learnt a little less with online learning compared with face-to-face classes.
Manmohan Sharma, Executive Secretary of IAPPD from India, noted that the COVID-19 “pandemic was becoming endemic” and would last longer than expected. He suggested that APDA and AFPPD keep this subject on the agenda in the longer term.
Dr Osamu Kusumoto, Secretary-General and Executive Director of APDA, wanted to know from the consultants how to prioritise these issues into a country’s policy.
Vazirov, replied saying the pandemic unveiled weaknesses in policies and his country’s approaches to crises. Tajikistan has a national development strategy until 2030, but, in his view, it was time to reconsider the practices – not only for education but for all sectors in the country which need to work in a coordinated fashion.
He disagreed that the pandemic was becoming endemic. “Now is the time to review existing policy documents and introduce amendments based on lessons we learnt, work together, and jointly combat the negative consequences of COVID-19,” he said.
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