PERU – The downstream effects of Covid-19 on adolescent girls in the Peruvian Amazon

The downstream effects of Covid-19 on adolescent girls in the Peruvian Amazon: qualitative findings on how the pandemic affected education and reproductive health

BMJ Global Health 2024;9(4)

by Lisa L Woodson, Adriana Garcia Saldivar, Heidi E Brown, Priscilla A Magrath, Nicolas Atunez de Mayolo, et al


Due to Covid-19, schools were closed to mitigate disease spread. Past studies have shown that disruptions in education have unintended consequences for adolescents, including increasing their risk of school dropout, exploitation, gender-based violence, pregnancy and early unions. In Peru, the government closed schools from March 2020 to March 2022, declaring a national emergency that affected an estimated 8 million children. These closures may have had unintended consequences, including increased adolescent pregnancy, particularly in Peru’s rural, largely indigenous regions. Loreto, located in the Peruvian Amazon, has one of the highest adolescent pregnancy rates in the country and poor maternal and child health outcomes. The underlying causes may not be fully understood as data are limited, especially as we transition out of the pandemic. This qualitative study investigated the downstream effects of Covid-19 on adolescent education and reproductive health in Loreto’s districts of Nauta and Parinari. In-depth interviews (n=41) were conducted with adolescents and community leaders. These were held in June 2022, three months after the reinstitution of in-person classes throughout Peru. Focus group discussions (FGDs) were also completed with community health workers and educators from the same study area in October 2022 to supplement our findings (3 FGDs, n=15). We observed that the economic, educational and health effects of the Covid-19 pandemic contributed to reduced contraceptive use, and increased school abandonment, early unions and adolescent pregnancy. The interplay between adolescent pregnancy and both early unions and school abandonment was bidirectional, with each acting as both a cause and consequence of the other.

[Editor’s Note: In spite of the increase found in adolescent pregnancies during the pandemic years, this research report does not mention or discuss illegal or unsafe abortions.]