Effects of Covid-19 on young people in Malawi

By Patuma Tonex

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected the world in many ways, and Malawi has not been spared. Located in the southern part of Africa, Malawi is rated as one of the least developed countries across the globe with most of its population living in rural areas.

On 2 April 2020, the first three Covid-19 positive cases were confirmed in the country’s capital, Lilongwe. This was after the government had already announced the closure of all schools on 20 March to prevent further spread of the virus.

Four months down the line, Malawi has experienced a number of negative effects because of the pandemic on the youth who form the majority of the population.

Closure of Borders

Every year, many Malawian youths graduate from both public and private colleges, but finding a good job for most graduates is difficult and most resort to opening small-scale businesses. The closure of borders in a bid to mitigate the spread of the virus has seen a number of companies reducing their workforce and, in worst-case scenarios, some have even had to close down their businesses. This has rendered some people jobless, most of whom are youth. In addition, we have seen many youth ordering goods like clothes, shoes and kitchenware from South Africa, Zambia and Tanzania, but the closure of borders has left them helpless since they can no longer travel to these countries to order their goods.

Child Labour

School closures have also had an impact on young people in the country. The closure of schools has led to a number of cases of child abuse at home, with some school-going children being subjected to child labour because there is nothing else for them to do. These are the children whose parents and guardians have lost their jobs and are struggling to make ends meet, hence forcing the children to help them in doing some small jobs for income.

Drug and Substance Abuse

Walking in the rural areas and towns, I have personally seen a lot of young, school-going boys and girls just aimlessly walking around. Most boys have now resorted to beer-drinking and smoking, which to them is some sort of entertainment as they have nothing else to do at home. My greatest fear is that if not properly counselled, these young boys may end up being criminals in the future because the chances that they will go back to school when lessons resume are very low.

Teenage Pregnancy and Child Marriages

School closure has also led to teenage pregnancies and early marriages in the country since most school-going girls are becoming pregnant, and some of them are forced to get married at an early age because their parents cannot take care of them and their unborn baby.

A report by the African Institute for Development Policy (AFDEP) states that Malawi is 11th in the world in terms of highest rate of child marriages, and the current situation might worsen the rating. A local organization, Malawi Health Equity Network, has reported 5,000 cases of teenage pregnancies in the southern Phalombe district, while over 500 girls have entered into early marriages since the onset of the pandemic. Another southern region, District of Nsanje, is said to have over 300 girls who are nursing unwanted pregnancies since schools closed. This is according to the district education officer Gleston Alindiamawo. The worst hit is the eastern district of Mangochi, where it has been recorded that at least 7,274 teenage girls became pregnant from January through June this year. According to the district’s youth health services coordinator Peter Malipa this figure is 1,039 more compared with those who became pregnant during the same period last year, which included 166 girls aged between 10 to 14 years old.

In Phalombe and Mzimba districts, 1000 girls and 400 girls respectively have become pregnant, all during the Covid-19 pandemic. The figures therefore show that early pregnancies is the highest impact of the pandemic among the school-going girls and there are chances that these girls might have also gotten STIs from the men/boys who made them pregnant. As the government is engaging various stakeholders on reopening of schools, parents and guardians need to do their part by closely monitoring the moves of their children, especially girls who are mostly vulnerable.

 

Patuma Tomex is a member of Child Helpline International’s #Youth advisory council.