Pretoria - The Covid-19 pandemic upended lives and livelihoods across the globe, with youth being among the most affected demographic.
These were the findings of a Unisa Bureau of Market Research comprehensive study shedding light on the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the well-being of South African youth.
The study investigated challenges faced by SA youth, such as substance use, online sexual exploitation and cyberbullying – 1 124 people between the ages 12 and 20 participated.
The study gave an insight into their challenges and offered a road map for support and recovery.
“The study confirmed that young people find themselves in an environment where legal and illegal substances are openly used and easily accessible. Among these are a variety of tobacco products including cigarettes (50%), ‘Hubbly Bubbly’ (Hookah) (48.0%) as well as ‘vaping’ (14%). Together with the unsafe use of tobacco products, especially during social events, the study identified high levels of alcohol consumption among youth.”
Dr Antoinette Basson, who led the study, said 62% confirmed they consumed alcohol during the past 12 months, of which 47% who had consumed alcohol had been drunk. These findings are consistent with previous BMR studies and confirm the irresponsible use of alcohol among young people with detrimental consequences.
Online sexual exploitation and abuse of young people included the exposure to online sexually explicit images (pornographic images). The study confirmed high levels of access to the internet and smart devices, which increased during the Covid-19 pandemic especially due to the need for online education and communication. This resulted in the increased vulnerability of young people to online sexual exploitation and abuse.
According to Basson, the study found 71% had seen disturbing images online, mostly sexual (75%) and violent (53%).
In terms of education, the closure of schools and universities due to lockdown measures had a profound impact on the educational trajectory of young South Africans.
The abrupt shift to online learning disproportionately affected students from low-income households, who often lacked access to the necessary technology and a conducive learning environment.
Many students struggled to adapt to virtual learning, leading to concerns about learning gaps and reduced educational attainment.
Cyberbullying also remained a concern among South African youth and was likely to increase during the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to Basson, 35% reported that incidents of online bullying increased during the Covid-19 pandemic mainly due to an increase in online activity and lack of physical interaction.