In times of crisis and disruption, young people are vulnerable to severe and long-lasting impacts. The findings of the Global Survey on Youth and COVID-19 confirm systemic, deep and disproportionate impacts of the pandemic on young people’s employment, education, mental well-being, and rights.
Yet, the Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth recognizes how young people continue to play an integral part in recovery and reconstruction efforts by raising their voices and providing aid to the affected around them.
Through our survey responses to the questions “How did you help others?” and “What would you do as the leader of your country?”, we collected stories and statements from young people around the globe to highlight their views on fighting the crisis and their acts of reaching out in solidarity.
Education and training moved from classrooms to online and remote learning. Survey findings revealed a sharp deep digital divide in this transition, especially for youth in lower-income countries, as well as uncertainties and fears that young people hold regarding learning outcomes.
While the long-term impacts of policy decisions taken during the pandemic concerning education will only emerge with time, young people shared their ideas and concerns surrounding education policy.
“Recognising that the current situation has long term implications for future- from a socio-economic perspective, I would invest rigorously to ensure that there is no break in the education and employment of the children and youth. I would undertake measures for continued education of those enrolled in government schools and colleges. I would ensure that income and social security measures are given to youth - to reduce their vulnerability to unemployment or redundancy of skills.”
“I want to engage the youth in creating awareness and help to providing skills training between slums and mohalla (neighbourhood), and to providing knowledge of government services like in education and health. One cannot imagine a growth of state and country without the healthy and wealthy growth of people.”
“I would encourage the youth to learn some new skills that will enable them to earn a living when the pandemic is no more, so they can be independent.”
“I gave out from the little I had and I am doing some online free code classes for children and teenagers. I co-hosted a webinar to train teachers on how to use remote learning, volunteered to host webinars for teachers and another webinar to help African Youth face the economic challenges due to COVID-19 pandemic."
“I would reduce tuition fees for universities, as we pay quite a lot already, for which we should get something in return: access to libraries, study rooms, university buildings. All of this is now closed. I think it's only fair to lower tuition fees for this reason.”
“The biggest issue for me is the impacts on my university education. The alternative exams are different to what we would have been given if COVID-19 wasn’t prevalent. I find it very hard to revise and therefore do well in these exams which will then impact my future career. Additionally, my placement also got cancelled which means that I won’t have training or experience once I graduate.”
The survey found that one in six young people (17 per cent) stopped working altogether, most notably younger workers aged 18–24, and those in clerical support, services, sales, and crafts and related trades. There were also reductions in working hours and losses in incomes due to lockdown measures.
Young people spoke about their efforts to aid those facing job and income losses, and their ideas on charting a safe return to work
“Our organization has been negotiating with companies’ human resource and employee safety practices. We've also been helping self-employed people achieve improvements in their business to deal with the crisis and keep their employees in work and with a regular income.”
“My advice is to provide support for young people in the community, and for vulnerable people such as the elderly and disabled. I call on our authorities to provide free masks and sanitizers.”
“I would impose strict penalties on employers who put profit before people; who have unnecessarily furloughed or fired people. I would ensure the survival of key sectors, but not at the expense of human lives."
The survey data reveals a deterioration in young people’s mental well-being, and uncovered interlinkages between mental well-being, educational success and labour market integration.
Overall 17 per cent of young people had scores indicating probable anxiety or depression. Those facing education or work disruption or stoppages were almost twice as likely to have scores indicating probable anxiety or depression compared to those whose education and employment were less affected.
In their statements, young people share how they supported each other’s mental wellbeing through volunteerism, sharing resources, and reaching out within personal networks.
“Currently, I am studying clinical psychology so I implement the psychotherapeutic techniques I'm being taught into any conversation that would require it, based on increased anxiety levels surrounding COVID-19.”
“I checked in on people's mental health, spread information regarding government assistance and online mental health platforms (hotlines, therapy)”
“I volunteer on an online counselling service to offer mental health care support to people in need I joined the board of "Red Cross Support Group" where we raise funds to buy and distribute food for the less fortunate I joined the Kenyan Ministry of Health as a youth advocate to support a training of private security personal on how to use PPEs effectively.”
The pandemic exposed crucial fault-lines in the current system which significantly drove up the scale of the crisis by compounding its negative effects for the most vulnerable groups.
Young people shared their ideas on immediate governance measures, as well as roadmaps to better and more inclusive systems of governance.
“First I will encourage everyone to follow the containment measures. Then I will stand by people who lost their jobs and assist small enterprises cope with the downturn, for example by ordering food and shopping at local producers. I encourage the government to provide high levels of support to the health and education sectors.”
“I would create a universal basic income (at least temporarily), grant subsidies to small businesses and create strong mechanisms that discouraged workers' release. I would encourage free artistic shows, psychological appointments online (reducing the psychological impact on the population) and create orientation and help services focused on the most vulnerable. I would decree mandatory quarantine, demand extreme prevention measures by the essential services (after all, they have to continue working).”
“I would Implement and ensure income assistance for all those in need and provide assistance to the most vulnerable populations who have historically been underrepresented and invisible in my country.”
"During this lockdown, the government must ensure that all people's basic necessities such as food, shelter, medical supplies are met and more attention is paid to vulnerable groups of people. As a more tangible measure, more resources must be invested into research about vaccines and treatment of COVID-19."
“I would listen and consider the plight of students and informal workers. I would also look into and manage other safety/health risks such as domestic violence and mental health problems and even hunger instead of tunneling my vision towards COVID-19 and COVID-19 alone"
"I would give food for the people so they can stay home and avoid contacting with each other. You can't force the people to stay home if they can't eat."
“In my country, where more than half of the population does not believe in the existence of the epidemic and who live off the informal sector, it is important to have a clear picture of the informal sector. I will first prioritise raising awareness so that people can adopt prevention measures, and everyone knows what behaviours to adopt for their own well-being”
Though hit hard by the pandemic, evidence from the survey–together with young people’s stories about giving back–shows that young people demonstrated solidarity and empathy for those badly affected by the crisis through charitable donations, volunteer efforts, and personal gestures. They also took upon the responsibility of fighting misinformation and keeping others informed.
“I helped those around me by sharing groceries with neighbours, donating foodstuff and supermarket vouchers, calling elderly family members, sharing information on improving mental health during this time, helping colleagues with schoolwork"
“I have tried my level best to spread awareness about the infectivity of the virus, symptoms, spread by creating a helpline number with few other healthcare professionals. I have suggested few healthcare tips like diet and sanitation through video messages and writeups, certain fun activity ideas to cope up with mental health”
“Since I don’t have a fixed source of income, my ability to help others is a bit limited. In this pandemic, we have been giving salary to our house maid and cook which i think is her right. I donated some amount to needy people in my locality. Distributed some masks to the poor people. And contributed some money to people who are helping feeding the stray dogs.”
“Our local Lions Club drove around retirement/nursing homes in our town with banners on our vehicles to encourage seniors and let them know we are thinking of them. And also to thank the healthcare workers there”
“I have created a Facebook group for people to be updated about Coronavirus outbreak in Afghanistan, share articles and research, and keep themselves informed.”
“I have signed up to volunteer for 4 different initiatives. I have called family and friends regularly, organised a quiz for friends to join on an online call, organised regular catch ups with colleagues for a tea break online, helped set up a WhatsApp group for colleagues who have been furloughed, started to make a list of things I can do at home.”
“I shared information in order to reduce tension and gave out from the little I have to some friends who have deeply been impacted by the current situations”
“I am fighting against the spread of misinformation and fake news about COVID-19. I am telling my friends and family to be human and to spread love and kindness to our health and safety workers: our doctors, police, sanitation workers and any worker battling on the COVID-19 frontlines”
“I phoned my family and neighbors to ask how are they were coping. I ordered goods online for some of my relatives and neighbors and transferred money for the needy. I volunteered in so many organizations and helped them the best I could. I am fluent in Sinhala, Tamil, and English. So I help volunteer organizations reach people in different parts my country. We distributed dry food, fruits, essential goods and medicine amongst the needy. I went through some courses about this pandemic and used my social media networks to convey the seriousness of this pandemic. At home we made food to distribute among needy. and I asked my friends and relatives to help the needy as best as they can.”
The voices, energy and creativity of young people can and are shaping a more inclusive, equal and resilient planet for us all. It is important to listen to and learn from young people. Only by working together, with and for youth, can we avert prevent the COVID-19 crisis from having a potentially devastating impact on the lives of vulnerable populations, including young people themselves.
The Global Survey on Youth and COVID-19 was conducted by Decent Jobs for Youth partners including the International Labour Organization, the UN Major Group for Children and Youth, AIESEC, the European Youth Forum, the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa and the United Nations Human Rights Office. If you would like to learn more about the survey & be part of Decent Jobs for Youth efforts promoting Youth Rights and Voices, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development
Decent Jobs for Youth was launched in 2016 as a UN system-wide effort, focusing on the youth employment challenge that is central to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It has emerged as a global, multi-stakeholder initiative that brings together governments, social partners, the private sector, youth and civil society organizations, and others. They work together to share knowledge, leverage resources and take action at country and regional level, to support young people in accessing decent work and productive employment worldwide.