By Muiz Zafri, Digital Communications Intern, SOLS Health
Describing the Covid-19 pandemic as ‘unprecedented’ is an understatement. This pandemic has affected economies from all over the world by causing businesses to collapse, the loss of lives in millions of people, such as friends and family members alike, but the worst is yet to come.
According to the World Health Organisation, adults tend to be more prone to this disease, especially if they have pre-existing health problems such as asthma and diabetes, or those with addictions towards tobacco products. As unfair as it may seem to them, the detrimental effects of this crisis will be felt by all parts of society, one way or the other.
Although youths are often correlated to having stronger immune systems, they happen to be the most vulnerable when it comes to the economic and social problems that are currently arising. A large part of this vulnerable youth community comes from low income families that fall under the M40 and B40 community, who are all struggling to make ends meet during this crisis.
It is a great misfortune that the younger generation is in deep waters in terms of preparing a brighter future for their families. Therefore, this article discusses how these long-term socioeconomic effects could bring about much more adverse consequences aside from the millions of deaths that we see today.
Social distancing is the current global reaction to this pandemic as it stops the chain of infections across the world, but it comes with the cost of seeing economies collapse and thousands of companies filing for bankruptcy. With businesses closing their doors, global unemployment rates have skyrocketed from 5.3 million to 24.7 million people (United Nations’ Department of Economic and Social Affairs). This includes a dramatic drop in sales and a drag of the retail apocalypse, which has forced companies to resort to drastic options, such as reducing their corporate headcount and even laying off their staff.
While there is a spike in unemployment figures, those holding on to jobs are facing pay cuts as companies grapple to stay afloat. It is important that we highlight the problems of unemployment and wage cuts, as the bulk of jobs that cater towards the lower income community are within the retail sector itself, ifor example cashiers and product promoters.
The working conditions of the youths today seems to embody the idiom: ‘when it rains, it pours’. Not only are they more unemployed compared to adults by a ratio of 3:1, their quality of employment is also compromised due to the adoption of zero contract hours and informal employment policies. Ultimately, these issues of labour exploitation would negatively affect the youth community, especially fresh graduates who have to live independently and financially support their retired parents.
In relation to unemployment rates which especially disadvantages adults within the B40 and M40 community, their constant worry of increased financial constraints can lead to high levels of stress. The stress and anger that builds from the workplace tends to breed instability in these homes within the lower income community, whereby the families must also deal with effects of Covid-19 being more adverse.
Children living in these homes are at a higher risk of becoming victims of child abuse, especially minors under the age of 18 who are still dependent under the care of their parents. Moreover, given the limitations faced in accessing good internet coverage and a cellphone, many of these children may not be able to approach their extended family members to seek help. Their lack of presence in social media also cuts them off from helplines responding to cases of domestic violence and abuse, as well as other critical resources.
From a larger scale, the closing of schools on a global scale has increased child maltreatment as these educational platforms usually allow professional educators to detect signs of abuse and immediately report these signs to the authorities (American Psychological Association). Schools may be the only safe environment for these children, where in some cases, they may rely on discounted meals to get proper nutrition. However, with all of these schools absent, what other support system can the children rely on?
In Malaysia, 37% of under-privileged students do not have access to the likes of smartphones, computers and decent internet coverage, with 50% of them living in rural areas. As education and learning rapidly shifts towards online mediums, poorer children are facing greater difficulties in attending classes through online mediums such as Google Classroom and WhatsApp. The reality of technological isolation has underscored the realities of the rich-poor education gap, rendering those from less privileged backgrounds unable to access quality education.
Especially when personal interactions between a teacher and a student may be the most important factor for a student to maintain attention and to focus in understanding lessons, this ‘digital divide’ will surely put these underprivileged students at a disadvantage in terms of providing them opportunities to escape the cycle of poverty.
Furthermore, schools in rural areas are bound to observe poorer performance from their students alongside higher dropout rates. The responsibility of educating each child will now rest upon each parent, adding to the multiple other commitments they have to juggle, such as improving their strained financial circumstances or basic needs to survive.
Fret not, there is still hope for the next generation. We can charter a better future for our children amongst this pandemic, because in every dark cloud there is a silver lining. It is important that we as friends, family members or citizens, are to play our roles in supporting these underprivileged youths. We can do this by providing support through government and NGO initiatives that cater to them. Lending a helping hand will bear positive results instead of the predicted negatives brought forth by Covid-19, as the youth will represent our country’s future, and perhaps the world’s.