Andrea Valle from 100 Million Peru writes about the challenging situations faced by young people in Peru in 2020, and how youth activism has been instrumental in affecting change.
Since the first case of Covid-19 was detected in the country, the Peruvian government decided to implement various containment measures in order to prevent the collapse of the deficient health system. From the beginning, the borders were closed and a mandatory quarantine was declared at the national level, leaving all the educational centres and most work centres closed. All this while the government tried to correct in the shortest possible time the shortcomings of a public health system abandoned for several decades. Unfortunately, these efforts were not enough. Peru remains one of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic, and at its peak Peru had the second highest death rate worldwide.
The world economic crisis was not alien to the Peruvian context either. The closure of borders and the mandatory quarantine caused the bankruptcy of several companies, mainly small ones. More than 2 million Peruvians lost their jobs in a country where 70% of the population worked informally, with no unemployment insurance. Peru has had one of the longest lockdowns and, as a result, is also suffering one of the world’s deepest economic recessions. According to the World Bank (WB), this year the Peruvian Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is expected to fall to more than 12%.
In this way, the social problems that Peruvians were already experiencing despite economic growth have worsened. Inequality in access to opportunities and basic services has increased after the reduced income and job losses. Tragically, in Peru, if you don't have enough money, you don't have access to services such as quality health care and education, and for many, food security is still a dream yet to come true. Due to all this, several experts have noted a worrying social crisis within the Peruvian context.
What have been the effects of these crises on Peruvian childhood and adolescence?
With little food security or access to health, obtaining money became the main objective for families who saw their income reduced in during the pandemic. Without the necessary means to survive and without sufficient state capacity to ensure their rights, education and well-being took a backseat. Many children and adolescents were forced to leave their studies and start working to support their families. As a result, there is a worrying increase in child labour and school dropouts, mainly in the poorest provinces of the country.
Unfortunately, in such a severe crisis and with no options, people are forced to renounce their rights in order to survive. A clear example of this happened in the province of Puno, where one of the highest school dropout rates in the country was evidenced. It is estimated that 20,553 students dropped out of their education, a number that represents 76% of the school population in that province. These numbers were published in a study carried out by the Regional Directorate of Education in Puno, where the insufficient economic resources of families were identified as the main cause of this catastrophe. Due to the harsh poverty of the area, many children – whose parents have been left unemployed – have gone to work in the fields or in informal mines, where their safety is often at risk and their development is seriously impaired.
Due to the closure of schools, the Peruvian government implemented the “Aprendo en Casa” program, comprising virtual classes for all students enrolled in state schools, who could continue their education receiving it from different means such as radio, TV, cell phones or computers. However, the existing poverty in Puno and in other provinces of the country has created a serious digital divide, which represents a considerable barrier to accessing education. In that sense, many families do not have the resources to acquire any of this technological equipment. Also, many of the poorest rural areas of the country do not have a good radio and TV signal, and much less an internet service - the latter being the most difficult to provide, as people would not be able to afford it.
Despite the difficult context, some children and adolescents walk many kilometres to find the right conditions, such as quality radio or TV signal, to continue their classes. However, that is not the case for most. The study carried out in Puno revealed that the second factor for school dropout is social reasons, such as family migration to seek new job opportunities. A third factor for dropping out of classes was the difficulty of adapting to the new virtual teaching methodology and preferring face-to-face classes.
All of this has proved the necessity to have authorities that can focus on making the most appropriate decisions to improve the difficult situation that the country continues to face.
100 Million Peru’s Response
From 100 Million Peru, we launched many campaigns on social networks to call for action from decision-makers and authorities, whom we asked for proper attention to these issues to avoid worse consequences in our childhood and adolescence. We were able to summon more than 70 young people from all over the country, motivated to generate change and influence their communities.
However, we didn't expect that in addition to the health and social crises, Peru would also experience a serious political crisis that generated an instability considered bigger than the one experienced in recent years.
Peru’s Political Crisis – Young People Have Spoken
Since 2016, Peru has been in political crisis, based on factors such as the serious crisis of the Peruvian party system. In 2016, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski was elected president of Peru, assuming the government until 2021 with a mostly dangerous opposition group in the Congress. However, constant discussions and struggles for power, together with serious political scandals, led the president to resign in 2018. Amid strong tensions between the executive and the legislature, Martín Vizcarra assumed the presidency of the republic. Sadly, the tensions between the two powers of the State did not cease, adding to it further political scandals. Meanwhile, the country was still stagnant and in need of leadership, yet our authorities continued in a power struggle that led Vizcarra to dissolve the already questioned and not very popular Congress.
In early 2020, Peru elected new members of Congress by popular election. Despite this, the situation did not improve. The new Congress tried, like the previous one, to oust President Vizcarra on several occasions, finally achieving it on November 9. As a result, the president of the Congress, Manuel Merino de Lama, became the new president of Peru. With a delegitimized Congress with almost no popular approval, the anger of the people was unleashed, exploding with this last act that landed us in another crisis. This anger was manifested mainly in young people throughout the country, who had the privilege of being born in a country with a growing economy and some political stability, factors that they were not willing to give up due to the bad decisions and selfishness of irresponsible authorities.
Consequently, various protest marches were organised across the country, mobilising millions of Peruvians at home and abroad, with the aim of preventing what was considered a coup d'Etat. One of the main concerns of young people was the risk of losing the progress that had been made with the reform of the Peruvian higher education reform, implemented by the State but threatened by some congressmen with particular interests. Therefore, seeking to defend the right to a quality education, daily protest marches were held against the new president and against the congress. Unfortunately, there was police repression and the lives of two young men were lost: Jack Bryan Pintado and Jordan Inti Sotelo.
Social outrage reached unthinkable limits and the situation became untenable. The use of social media networks was vital, attracting the attention of the international media and international organisations such as the OAS, which avoided recognising Merino as a legitimate president. Likewise, given the discredit of the traditional media, several groups of young people organised to create alternative means of communication on social networks, seeking to disseminate more truthful information. All of this contributed to Merino finally resigning the presidency on November 15, being chosen the next day Francisco Sagasti as the new legitimate president of Peru.
This context demonstrates the importance and power of youth activism. However, the deaths of Jack Bryan and Jordan Inti are irreparable, as is the time lost to be able to solve the serious problems that have mainly affected the most vulnerable groups in the country, such as children. It is important that politicians and authorities do not lose sight of the objective of their positions: to serve society.
Therefore, from 100 Million Peru we demand assertive decisions from our authorities for the good of childhood and adolescence, who deserve food security, access to health and quality education. Without this clear, countries like Peru will be condemned to a future of inequality and backwardness.