– Most families in the Republic of Tajikistan were affected when economic migrants were caught in the COVID-19 pandemic abroad, said Dr Vazirov Jamshed, research consultant for the Asian Forum of Parliamentarians on the population and development (AFPPD), during a webinar on the impact of the pandemic on young people.
In a predominantly agriculture-based economy, he said, many young people seek employment abroad – mainly in the Russian Federation and other countries.
When the pandemic shutdowns began, these workers were left out of work, and remittances that “once accounted for 30% of the country’s GDP in 2019 had halved by 2021”.
They are not the only young economic migrants left without resources and often without access to basic services abroad.
Sangeet Kayastha, AFFPD research consultant in Nepal, said it is estimated that 20 percent of Nepalese abroad are at risk of becoming unemployed.
“They have not received their salary and other benefits and are deprived of access to basic services, including health facilities,” he told the forum. While the government had encouraged the repatriation of migrant workers, it was “at their expense”.
The webinar, hosted by AFPPD and the Asian Association for Population and Development (APDA), heard about the devastating effects of the pandemic on young people. While many agreed, there have been success stories, the closure of educational institutions, dependence on online schooling in countries where connectivity was poor and expensive, and the impact on micro , small and medium-sized businesses meant that young people were severely affected.
Prof Keizo Takemi, MP from Japan and Chairman of AFPPD, shared a story of youth volunteer activism, started by a member of the Indian parliament, who saved the lives of more than 10,000 patients by coordinating medical services and beds in medical facilities with those in need.
However, he also sounded the alarm that COVID-19 had created a “pandemic of inequality”, with growing disparities within and between countries.
Björn Andersson, regional director of UNFPA APRO, reiterated the understanding that “the pandemic has displaced many people. Inequalities have been exacerbated ”, and vulnerable people, including young people, have been seriously affected.
UNFPA led the 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 of the region. It has also set up a GBV helpline and helplines focused on mental health and opened 143 spaces suitable for women and young people have been developed in several countries.
Nonetheless, the pandemic has created a huge gap. One of the challenges was that in governments’ attempts to tackle the threats of the pandemic, youth issues were not prioritized, even in countries with progressive youth policies.
Jamshed said Tajikistan is not ready for online education. While before the pandemic the literacy rate was high, many young people could not continue their education due to poor infrastructure and the fact that most of the population was not connected.
“The price of intent is the highest, not only in the region but in the world if you compare income levels and internet costs,” he said.
Nandinchimeg Magsar, research consultant for Mongolia, noted that as of February 3, 2020, all levels of education have shifted to non-classroom training such as televised lessons and online learning.
This became a challenge as only three in five students could attend their televised classes regularly, and 15% could not attend their classes for various reasons, including lack of television or the internet.
Anna Marie Alhambra, research consultant for the Philippines, said most students are in modular or distance learning. “It 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 enroll in their schools.”
She also expressed concern that a survey by UNICEF indicated that parents observed that children were learning somewhat less with online learning compared to face-to-face lessons.
The consultants agreed that young people must come to the fore in all countries in terms of priority and involvement in shaping future policies.
The Alhambra has said youth unemployment before the pandemic has declined in the Philippines, but COVID-19 has pushed that back.
“It was 14.7% in July 2019 and 22.4% in July 2020. This means that 1.7 million young Filipinos are unemployed. During the lockdown, young people working in wholesale, retail, restaurant, construction, transportation and warehousing were hit the hardest as everyone was asked to stay home. What is very worrying is that there is still a 14% reduction in working hours, which means less income and less economic activity for young people, ”she said.
Magsar said that as of February 3, 2020, all levels of education in Mongolia have moved to non-classroom training such as TV lessons and online learning. Only three in five students were able to attend their televised classes regularly and 15% could not attend their classes for various reasons, including lack of television or the internet.
In the Philippines, said the Alhambra, most students were in modular or distance learning. It 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 enroll in their schools.” A survey conducted by UNICEF indicated that parents observed that children learned slightly less with online learning compared to face-to-face lessons.
Manmohan Sharma, executive secretary of India’s IAPPD, noted that the “COVID-19 pandemic is becoming endemic” and will last longer than expected. He suggested that APDA and AFPPD keep this topic on the agenda for the longer term.
Dr Osamu Kusumoto, Secretary General and Executive Director of APDA, wanted to know from the consultants how to prioritize these issues in a country’s politics.
Jamshed, responded by saying that the pandemic had exposed weaknesses in his country’s policies and approaches to crises. Tajikistan has a national development strategy until 2030, but he said it was time to reconsider practices – not only for education but for all sectors of the country that need to work in a coordinated manner.
He disagreed that the pandemic was becoming endemic. “Now is the time to review existing policy documents and introduce amendments to identify approaches, work together and tackle the negative consequences of COVID-19,” he said.