The advent of COVID-19 led to strict nationwide lockdowns and social distancing measures, disrupting access to services and opportunities. It is critical to understand the effect that the pandemic lockdowns and social distancing measures had on the lives of adolescent girls and inform policy and programming going forward. A telephonic follow-up study was conducted to assess the status of education, employment and marriage of the girls from Class 9 and Class 11 cohorts; to examine the effect of COVID-19 on education, work and marriage related plans of the cohort girls; and to understand the effect of COVID-19 on access to basic amenities, health and girl’s time use.
- Most of the girls are currently enrolled in educational institutions (ranging from 63–87 percent across younger and older girls’ cohorts from Jharkhand and Delhi).
- In Jharkhand, 40 percent older girls and roughly 26 percent younger girls were currently married, of which 12 percent from the older girls’ cohort and 30 percent from the younger girls’ cohort reported to have married before the age of 18.
- 57–77 percent girls in Delhi and less than half of the girls in Jharkhand were engaged in any education or learning activities over two months prior to the survey. However, only 5% younger girls and 19% older girls in Delhi and 16% and 27% younger and older girls in Jharkhand attended online classes.
- COVID-19 had a negative effect on the economic and social lives of adolescent girls, their families and their communities.
- COVID-19 had a negative effect on the economic and social lives of adolescent girls, their families and their communities. 10–19 percent girls reported an increase in violence or abuse toward women from husbands or other family members.
- Girls faced stricter restrictions within the household because of the presence of male family members. 6–12 percent girls in Delhi and almost 10 percent girls in Jharkhand reported an increase in unpaid care work.
- Over one fourth of the girls from Delhi and one-fifth of the girls from Jharkhand reported an increase in time spent on cooking and other domestic work since the pandemic.
- One in four girls reported that the COVID-19 pandemic impacted their mental health.
- Equitable gender attitudes and high self-esteem helped girls continue studies and delay marriage.
Discussion: Findings from the Plan-It Girls follow-up survey on the impact of COVID–19 on the lives of adolescent girls are similar to the findings from other surveys. The telephonic follow-up survey shows increased unpaid care work and more time spent on domestic chores since the pandemic, which is supported by other studies in Bangladesh and India (Amin et al., 2020; Young Lives, 2020). These can act as additional barriers to keeping girls in school or impede their ability to enter and progress in the labor market (International Labor Organization [ILO], 2018).
The proportion of girls reporting mental health issues in this survey was much higher as compared to the Young Lives study (Favara et al., November, 2020); thus, indicating an urgent need to promote the mental well-being of adolescents. When left unaddressed, mental health issues during adolescence are known to have long-lasting effects on the lives of individuals, often limiting their ability to lead fulfilling lives (WHO,2020).
Due to data limitation, the protective effects of the Plan-It Girls program on girls during the COVID-19 pandemic and long-term outcomes could not be assessed. However, the analysis showed that self-esteem and gender equitable attitudes have a protective effect on long-term outcomes of continuing education and delaying marriage, which was the intent of the program.
The telephonic survey provides a direction vis-à-vis the impact of COVID-19 on lives of adolescent girls; thus, meriting further research. A study with a representative sample can provide greater insights and support development of future gender-integrated programming to minimize the risks and mitigate the effect of crisis scenarios such as COVID-19.