What is the role of young people in India during COVID-19?

Young people in India are capable to take the country out of the shackles of the ongoing health and humanitarian crisis.

As the daily reports suggest, the poorest and the most marginalized (daily wagers, migrant workers, hawkers, contractual and informal workers etc.) are disproportionately impacted since their livelihoods and incomes are lost, with reports of them being confined in undignified conditions of shelters going around. Among the most impacted are the hapless migrants (youth are among the largest among the migrants), who are starved of funds and food and hardly have resources or space to practice social distancing.

Youth Accountability Advocate Monisha sharing food with children in Rajasthan, India

The Challenges

State of Public Health Care in India: The Indian government’s expenditure on health as a percentage of GDP still hovers around 1·5%, one of the lowest in the world. For around 52% of households in urban areas, and 44% of households in rural areas, the private sector is the main source of health care when they are sick, according to government data. It is insufficient to take on a pandemic like COVID-19. 

Misinformation and Stigma: Stigma has further aggravated the problem. Misinformation and Stigmatisation has led many people running away from the quarantine centres / hospitals and people are not coming forward. The issue of stigmatization stems from fear, prejudice, divisiveness, sometimes from racism, and lack of correct information.

Water and Sanitation: The preventive measures require frequent washing of hands apart from maintaining physical distance and practising isolation. Despite tackling the challenge in a mission mode, there remains critical gaps in access of people to potable water and sanitation facilities.

Impact of Lockdown: The nation-wide lockdown has led to loss of livelihood, education, access to family planning and sexual and reproductive health services among young couples and young people. There is an increase in reported cases of gendered and domestic violence.

The Intervention

It is about empowerment and participation – backed by rigorous structure, process, quality assurance, and investment in people.  It is both a means – a way of achieving change and impacts for young people and their communities, youth leading development, and an end in itself – building the capacity, skills and confidence of young people, creating a generation of leaders, and forging sustainable linkages in communities.

A localite in Odisha, India being oriented by a team member of a Youth Accountability Advocate on how to wear a mask

The Role of Young People

In increasing numbers, young people are proactively combating the spread of the virus and working to address the pandemic’s impacts.

Raising awareness and enhancing connections:

They are at the forefront of risk communication initiatives, for instance, they can:

  • Address misinformation, discrimination and stigma related to the crisis  
  • Disseminate information about COVID-19 using various platforms in official and local languages
Volunteer distributing one of the 200 food packets to the needy in Rajasthan, India during the national lockdown
Use youth led-organisations and networks to promote protection measures and community response:

Young people:

  • Can promote guidance and guidelines and address the COVID-19 related needs of the most vulnerable in their communities.
  • Can provide guidance on thorough handwashing practices to reduce the spread of the virus.
  • Can safely help seniors and other at-risk groups to access supplies, such as food and medication. 
  • Can provide tools for physical activities and sport using social media, during the confinement.
  • Can find ways to check on, and support others’ mental health through social media.
  • Can also contribute to data-collection and monitoring, including in relation to marginalized communities, to assess the COVID-19 response.

Young people, when informed and empowered, when they realize that what they do truly makes a differencecan indeed change the world.

Jane Goodall