Adeola Akinyele evaluates the life of the Nigerian adolescent in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and its resultant impact on their academics, sexual and reproductive health
Nigeria has a population of about 178 million, with 22.5 per cent of the population between 10 and 19 years old. COVID-19 came and met the world unprepared, Nigeria just like other countries of the world had to lockdown and ceased physical and socioeconomic activities for a while, jobs were lost, the business closed, religious gathering stopped, and schools were shut down in many parts of the countries for almost seven months leaving adolescents at home.
Although adolescents are not vulnerable to the virus itself; however, the impact of different actions taken due to the virus on adolescents have not been considered.
Academically, many adolescents were cut off from their friends and peers in their school, having to stay at home to do house chores all day with little or no academic activity. Privileged adolescents with access to technological tools such as phones and laptops continued learning via E-learning platforms (google classroom, zoom, television) having to make necessary adjustments, underprivileged Adolescent with no access to technological tools were encouraged to learn vocational skills and trade, some eventually drop out of school to focus on these trades. After the lockdown was lifted and school resumed, classes and examinations were rushed to make up for the lost time and to meet up with the academic session. This made it difficult for slow learning adolescents to catch up with classes.
During the lockdown, there was a sharp increase in the numbers of reported cases of rape, child molestation and sexual violence all over the country. This is because adolescents and sexual predators were kept within a confined space for a prolonged period of time. Some of these victims were unable to voice out because their predators are mostly familiar people and not strangers, our culture of blaming victims instead of predators and the limited access to get help from the outside because of movement restrictions.
This lead to the declaration of a “state of emergency” on rape and sexual violence nationwide.
Similarly, there was an increase in the rate of teenage pregnancyand Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) in Nigeria. Despite limited data, some states recorded more teenage pregnancy than usual. This is due to several factors that include lack of comprehensive sexuality education, idleness and wanting to explore, pornography, lack of access to contraceptives, rape and sexual violence to mention but a few.
Since Nigeria is going through another wave of COVID-19 infections with so many uncertainties, steps need to be taken tomitigate the impact of COVID-19 on adolescents. In case of further lockdown or school closure, alternative learning methodsshould be made available for underprivileged adolescents such as E-learning platforms so that learning can continue. In rural communities, small classroom activities in complete compliance with the COVID-19 measures should be made available instead of complete school closure.
There should be an increased awareness and access of adolescents to basic sexual and reproductive health services such as comprehensive sexuality education, contraception services,psychotherapy and menstrual hygiene products using telemedicine and other digital tools, while reaching out to them using social and mass media. In the same manner, there should be an increased awareness on rape and child molestation, reporting channels should be made available, and justice should be gotten for victims.
Parents and guardians should see the prolonged school closure as bonding time between them and their children, make use the opportunity educate their children (both male and female) on sex, life skill and help them make better decisions about their future. Provisions should be made for pregnant teenagers during their pregnancy, and they should be encouraged to go back to school or equipped to learn a vocational trade.
Akinyele wrote in from Global Girls Hub Initiative, Osogbo in Osun State.