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New Report Details Impact of COVID-19 on Adolescents in Kenya

Photo credit: PASU

NEW YORK, NY (July 13, 2021) – Research conducted by the Population Council in Kenya and published in a new report by Kenya’s Presidential Policy and Strategy Unit (PASU) shows the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the lives of adolescent girls and boys in Kenya. The report, “Promises to Keep: Impact of COVID-19 on Adolescents in Kenya," points to the critical need for bold action to address school dropout, adolescent pregnancies, lost learning momentum, violence and other negative consequences of the pandemic on the lives of adolescents in Kenya.

“In Kenya, adolescents, ages 10 – 19, comprise nearly a quarter of the population. And despite profound social and economic potential, adolescence is a complex time, particularly for marginalized adolescent girls and boys who are at a high risk of school drop-out, depression, early and unprotected sex, unintended pregnancy, early marriage, and sexual assault,” said Senior Associate, Karen Austrian of the Population Council who led this research. “While our new data show that the COVID-19 pandemic deepened these vulnerabilities, especially for adolescent girls, what is critical is that we have the data that tells us the magnitude of the situation and where and how partners can begin to address the adverse effects of COVID-19 on all adolescents.”

Since the onset of the pandemic, the Population Council has partnered with PASU and the Kenyan Ministry of Health to understand the government’s data needs and to support a data-driven national COVID-19 response. Under this partnership, the Population Council has generated data on COVID-19, documenting the multiple impacts of the pandemic on those living in poverty, including people living in both urban informal settlements and rural areas, which the government has used to inform public messaging, support policy action and create national guidance in response to evolving needs.

This new report is one of the first in the world to look exclusively at the impact of COVID-19 on adolescents’ lives. It leverages data collected on the social, education, health, and economic effects of COVID-19 on adolescents in June 2020 and again in February 2021, and features contributions and recommendations from girls and boys who are part of advisory groups in Nairobi, Kisumu, Kilifi and Wajir counties, where the data was collected.

“COVID-related disruptions are having a disproportionate impact on adolescents, which have long lasting effects because what happens to adolescents during this sensitive period will positively or negatively shape their horizons and pathways later in life. This has implications not just for the adolescents but also for the nation’s effectiveness in preparing the next generation for the future,” said Mrs. Ruth Kagia, Deputy Chief of Staff, Executive Office of the President.

The report finds that nearly all (97%) adolescents reported challenges accessing learning materials during the pandemic. When schools reopened in January 2021, 16% of girls and 8% of boys did not return to school. Sizeable proportions of boys (52%) and girls (39%) reported experiencing physical violence during the pandemic, and about half of all adolescents said they had experienced symptoms of depression and 75% reported skipping meals when their families could not afford food. This translates to approximately 250,000 girls and 125,000 boys not re-enrolling in school.

The report places adolescents at the center of every part of this effort and features their voices, their own words, and their personal perspectives throughout, including via documentary-style videos of study participants.

"We applaud the Government of Kenya for prioritizing the health and well-being of adolescents in its national pandemic response that is guided by science. By working side-by-side with members of PASU, we have been able to deliver timely and relevant data and evidence for governments and policymakers to respond as the pandemic evolves, “ said Thoai Ngo, vice president of Social and Behavioral Science and Research at the Population Council. “This is an example of the Population Council at its best—delivering critical evidence policy-makers need to improve lives.”

This new data will be available to the global community via the Population Council’s Adolescent Data Hub, a unique global portal to share and access data on adolescents living in low and middle-income countries. Featuring the Population Council’s rich and unique body of longitudinal and cross-sectional data on adolescents, as well as other open data sets on adolescents and young people, the Adolescent Data Hub serves as an important resource to facilitate data sharing, research transparency, and a more collaborative research environment to drive continued progress for adolescents. 

Read the report and learn more about the Council’s support to our partners to make evidence-informed responses to the pandemic globally.