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Uganda’s Minister of State for Gender, Labour and Social Development Florence Nakiwala Kiyingi

Caribbean countries explore strategies to shield young people from COVID-19 shock

6 July 2020

Caribbean ministries of youth have met to discuss how best to protect young people from the damaging impacts of COVID-19. 

A virtual event co-hosted by the Commonwealth Secretariat, Caribbean Community and Caribbean Development Bank saw officials from 12 ministries of youth discuss challenges and solutions to delivering services during the COVID-19 crisis.

Officials cited a digital divide, budget cuts and disruptions to service delivery as the main challenges hampering them from meeting the needs of young people.

Smart solutions

Despite challenges, they are using smart solutions to support people who are more vulnerable to the economic and educational effects of the pandemic. These solutions include:

  • online courses;
  • virtual mentorship schemes;
  • care packages for disabled youth; and
  • special loans for young business owners.

Uganda’s Minister of State for Gender, Labour and Social Development Florence Nakiwala Kiyingi, who is the chair of the Commonwealth Youth Ministerial Taskforce, presided over the meeting.

She said: “With the COVID-19 pandemic straining health systems and halting the global economy, the impact on youth, education and social development has come into full focus.

“Reports project the world economy to shrink by 3.2 per cent in 2020. The world will experience the first increase in poverty since 1998 with between 34 to 60 million people, including young people, falling into extreme poverty.

“The meeting aimed to learn how the Caribbean is managing various mitigation initiatives and to provide an opportunity for the Commonwealth Secretariat to hear from affected countries and to better understand how it may support their work.”

Estimates show despite efforts and public investments, youth unemployment and low-quality education were already major challenges in the trade-dependent and disaster-prone region, which the pandemic is further exacerbating.

Bridging the digital divide

Officials said economic relief packages should pay specific attention to young people, including homeless, jobless and disabled youth, and provide them with benefits and free health care.

To bridge the digital divide, they proposed:

  • upgrading infrastructure;
  • offering affordable internet;
  • providing digital devices to reach young people in rural areas;
  • promoting e-commerce, including freelancing; and
  • where resources are limited, 24-hour helplines and media services could offer health, career and educational support. 

Officials identified the lack of training and insufficient data as key obstacles in understanding and better supporting different groups of young people, presenting international organisations, including the Secretariat, with an opportunity to add value.

Considering this, the Secretariat announced it would welcome officials from all Caribbean countries to attend a virtual training session for youth workers which was originally planned for Grenadians.

Daniel Best from the Caribbean Development Bank told officials that despite COVID-19 challenges, his organisation has adopted a youth mainstreaming strategy to ensure its development work benefits young people and other age groups equally.

Head of the Commonwealth's Social Policy Division, Layne Robinson, said: “Based on the discussion, we will produce a report on the impact and opportunities of COVID-19 in the Caribbean, which will help Caribbean countries deal with and recover from this pandemic, while minimising the socio-economic damage being done to our young people.”