The Covid-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the livelihoods of the country's young populations with nearly 70 per cent of them witnessing a fall in income, a study revealed on Tuesday.
The loss of earnings was calculated in November 2020 in comparison with November in 2019, according to the survey jointly conducted by South Asian Network on Economic Modeling (SANEM) and ActionAid, Bangladesh.
The drastic fall in incomes prompted a group of most vibrant economic actors to switch their jobs. As coping strategies, most of them relied on borrowings, savings and extra work to tide over the crisis, it said.
Unusual prices of daily commodities emerged as the biggest shock among the surveyed households during the pandemic, it added.
The findings of the survey, carried out in four selected districts Kurigram, Satkhira, Rajshahi and Barguna, were disclosed at a webinar on "Pandemic and the Youth in Bangladesh: Survey Findings from Four Selected Districts".
SANEM research director Dr Sayema Haque Bidisha moderated the webinar.
Sharing the outcomes, SANEM research economist Mahtab Uddin said some 69.76 per cent wage-employed respondents reported that their monthly salary had decreased while 4.52 per cent of the surveyed respondents reported that the main earning member had shifted to a different profession either because of low wage or wage cut or loss of employment.
Regarding self-employment, he said, almost one-third of households also claimed that their business had to be closed either permanently or temporarily since March 2020.
Several reasons were identified behind the business closures such as the economic lockdown, lack of demand, fall in price, increased cost of production, Covid-19 related additional costs and so on, said Mr Mahtab, also lecturer at Department of Economics, University of Dhaka.
Citing the responses of the households, he said the affected-people adopted a number of coping strategies.
About 40 per cent households relied on borrowing, 39.4 per cent resorted to savings, 21.3 per cent worked extra hours, 12.3 per cent sold their animal stock, 9.9 per cent changed dietary patterns involuntarily and 8.3 per cent relied on unconditional help offered by relatives and friends.
The study found that more than 51 per cent of the students had never attended online classes while 26.3 per cent infrequently were attending virtual classes.
The digital devices required to participate in online classes were absolutely unavailable for 70.35 per cent students in Kurigram, followed by Satkhira (60.24 per cent), Barguna (54.16 per cent) and Rajshahi (43.87 per cent), according to the research.
As a panellist, Dr Mohammad Abu Eusuf, a professor of development studies at Dhaka University, stressed the need for offering stimulus packages specifically for the youths.
In light of disruption caused by the pandemic in the education sector, he said, any education-related stimulus package would be very crucial.
"This will not only help ensure access to technological devices but also greatly uplift participation in online education," he added.
Dr Sanzida Akhter, chairman of women and gender studies department at DU, said one of the key findings of the survey revealed that around 56 per cent of female students in the four regions never attended online classes.
"This indicates a widening gender inequality in terms of access to online education," she said.
Dr Sanzida also voiced her concern over the absence of sexual health and mental health services at community clinics despite the rising incidence of such cases during the pandemic.
Team leader of Swisscontact Nadia Afrin Shams said one of the most effective ways to promote female employment and empowerment is through ensuring their access to industry-based training for job placement.
Ms Nadia opined that it is important to uncover the idiosyncrasies in individual communities including social and cultural norms that act as barriers to women to participate in education and enter the workforce.
"This will help generate region-specific policy recommendations and target the most vulnerable sections of the female population," she added.
Deeba Farah Haque of Brac's gender responsive education and skills programme in Chattogram hill tracts termed bringing back dropout children to their schools a challenge, once they reopen.
Unlike the male youths who usually take part in training programs or enter the workforce after dropping out of school, females are more likely to be forced into early marriage, she said.
"Therefore, there is a need to assess the rise in early marriage rates and implement policies to prevent them," she added.
Senior assistant secretary at the ministry of youth and sports Dilruba Sharmin said the ministry has undertaken a project to establish a sustainable online marketplace known as "paikarisale.com" to support youth entrepreneurs at upazila level.
"This project will also promote entrepreneurship capabilities of rural women and help them become financially self-independent," she mentioned.
SANEM executive director Dr Selim Raihan said small and medium enterprises and youths and women have emerged as the most adversely impacted groups. "So, they must get the highest priority."
Suggesting finding an innovative social protection mechanism, Dr Raihan also claimed that existing social protection programs are not enough to tackle the new challenges induced by the pandemic.
AcitionAid Bangladesh country director Farah Kabir said the survey will help in formulating effective policies to facilitate Covid-19 responses and recovery process for social sectors such as education, healthcare, gender-based violence at grassroots level.
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