---one of the greatest impacts is due to the closure of schools/ colleges during the pandemic. Being confined in their homes, under lockdown conditions, and not getting to meet friends and peers, is not only affecting their academics but also their mental and psychological wellbeing---
By Shobha Shukla - CNS
Over 60% of the world's youth live in Asia Pacific region, accounting for about 19% of the region's total population. This translates into more than 750 million young women and men aged 15 to 24 years. As it is, many of them - especially adolescent girls and young women, young migrants and refugees, youth living in rural areas, young persons with disabilities, young people of different sexual orientations - already face a variety of obstacles in their access to education, employment and healthcare. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated their risks and vulnerabilities of being left behind on these and other fronts.
According to United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO), about 18.7 million primary-aged children in the Asia-Pacific are being deprived of their fundamental right to attend school, due to exploitation through child labour, disabilities, poverty, armed conflicts and child marriage. But those who get to go to the educational institutions, are also facing challenges - one of the greatest impacts is due to the closure of schools/ colleges during the pandemic. Being confined in their homes, under lockdown conditions, and not getting to meet friends and peers, is not only affecting their academics but also their mental and psychological wellbeing. While the lockdown has given the opportunity to open the doors for online classes and discussions, having easy access to internet and technology is an issue. Access to digital infrastructure is limited in many countries of the region, like Sri Lanka and Nepal, especially for those living in rural areas.
(left to right) Sangeet Kayastha (Nepal/ Thailand), Shelani Palihawadana (Sri Lanka) and Yueping Guo (China)
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Sangeet Kayastha, coordinator and founder of Y-PEER Asia Pacific Regional Centre, shares that "In Nepal, some private schools/ colleges are conducting online classes. Despite issues of poor internet services, these students are at least able to connect with their teachers, friends and other experts. But in the case of government schools, most of the teaching has stopped. So the impact has been very adverse on the rural and economically challenged students."
Dakshitha Wickremarathne, co-founder of Youth Advocacy Network, Sri Lanka, further points out that young women and girls have lesser access to internet as compared to the males, and they are being more affected by the pandemic than males, in terms of the already established structural inequalities in the existing patriarchal societies.
impact on sexual and reproductive health
Even in normal times young people across the Asia Pacific region face many
challenges in accessing sexual and reproductive health services they need, due
to a host of barriers. These include legal barriers requiring parental consent
for teenagers, socio-cultural barriers for unmarried sexually active young
people, as well as financial and other access barriers. The lockdown has
further exacerbated these problems. Even in the few countries where
youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services, like counselling and
abortion services are available, work at these facilities has been stalled due
to the lockdown.
While praising Sri Lanka's strong network of healthcare system and government clinics that provide free reproductive health services, Shelani Palihawadana, Project Coordinator at Youth Advocacy Network, Sri Lanka rues that the youth are unable to access these services due to lockdown restrictions imposed during the pandemic, unless they have a very vital reason. For example, if a young person (such as college student) who is confined in her home, needs to access a pregnancy kit, she has to, by default, go through her parents, but she is often not able to do so.
Lack of access to sexual and reproductive health products has been one of the main problems as supply chains have been disrupted leading to a shortage of contraceptives, sanitary products, etc, especially in rural areas. Even where delivery services are operating, the products are expensive and unaffordable for the majority of young people, she says.
While most youngsters in China have access to the internet, the challenges in accessing various sexual and reproductive health services are no different. As shared by Yueping Guo, core member of China Youth Network, the pandemic has resulted in shortage of menstruation necessities (sanitary pads) in the epidemic areas, difficulty in accessing HIV medicines, lack of access to contraceptives resulting in unintended pregnancies, and increase in sexual and other forms of gender-based violence.
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