Violence against children is an issue worldwide; there is no doubt about that. What types of violence, where it is occurring and how many children are affected are key questions that need to be answered so we can prevent it happening. UNICEF’s Child Maltreatment, A Systematic Review of Research (2012) clearly shows that violence against children occurs in all countries in the East Asia and the Pacific region, in a variety of settings and it occurs more often than most people think. More than that, violence against children has been linked to victims of drug and alcohol abuse; mental illness; poor health; juvenile offending; domestic violence and high risk behaviours in adolescence and later life.
Like many regions around the world, there is a critical lack of clear data on the nature and extent of violence against children across East Asia and the Pacific. In collaboration with the Centre for Disease Control, UNICEF is working to better understand the nature and extent of violence against children in the region. A household survey methodology has been developed that will gather data on the prevalence and types of violence against children, known as the VACS or Violence Against Children Studies.
To build a package of evidence to combat violence against children, UNICEF East Asia and the Pacific Office held a meeting 25-27 June 2013 to bring together Governments, UNICEF experts, academics and technical specialists to discuss country experiences in implementing the VACS research to date. I was lucky enough to attend this meeting and learn about this important work. It was great to hear how many countries have already begun implementing the research, taking steps to involve stakeholders early on in the process to ensure substantial outcomes of the research. The presentations by H.E. Anna Maembe and Dr. Catherine Maternowska about the Violence Against Children research in Africa were great – both outlined how the VACS were conducted in Africa and how the results were used for key advocacy strategies to build child protection policies.
I learnt that this type of research can be difficult to get support and funding for, as it is hard for some countries to acknowledge levels of violence against children. Acts of violence are generally considered shameful, and families and communities are often unwilling to speak about its existence or where and how it is occurring. This kind of information is vital for preventing it in the first place. The more that is known about the problem, the more individuals, families, communities and Governments can work together to build and strengthen child protection systems.
Prevalence levels found from this kind of research have been high. In Tanzania for example, it was found 73.5% of girls and 71.7% of boys had been physically abused; 23.6% of girls and 27.5% of boys had experienced emotional violence; and 27.9% of girls and 13.4% of boys experienced sexual violence. Whilst these figures are staggeringly high, great outcomes were achieved as a result of this research. At the meeting participants were shown a video of the campaign that was sparked from the findings of the research. The video showed children calling on adults for protection, governments and partners coming together to make key recommendations on how child protection systems can be strengthened.
|H.E. Anna Maembe and Dr Maternowska presenting on the findings from Tanzania and East And Southern Africa region. ©UNICEF/2013/Ratasarn|
One of the most interesting aspects of the meeting was that it included not only the VACS design, but also a variety of other methodologies that have been used to find reliable results on this issue. On the last day of the meeting, an NGO panel discussed the importance and application of both qualitative methodologies as well as quantitative. For those non-data people, qualitative research is used for collecting unstructured information and often people’s perceptions are explored. For an issue like violence against children and child abuse, this methodology can provide an extensive insight into the experience of the child. However one problem with this methodology is that it can be more difficult to analyse, unlike quantitative research. The NGO panel answered questions on this from meeting participants and gave examples on how the analysis could be done to provide reliable and meaningful results. The NGO panel was useful as a way to engage the audience to think about how qualitative research could be conducted alongside quantitative and how the results could be used for advocacy and programmes.
The presentations from Jim Mercy from CDC and Chris Mikton from the World Health Organisation were also a highlight. Jim Mercy gave an overview of how evidence can be built to inform decision making, and Chris Mikton spoke about how to review the effectiveness of programmes to prevent violence against children. The audience became aware of both the importance of evidence gathering, and equally the importance of putting this evidence to good use. Amalee McCoy’s presentation highlighted the need to use the evidence to protect children and how the child protection systems approach can be used to achieve this.
Evidence is one thing, but using it is another, and the regional meeting on research on Violence Against Children brought together the groups who can play a role in activities to achieve this. Knowing the extent of this horrific issue in this region has the potential to bring about substantial change, and better outcomes for children, families and communities. UNICEF EAPRO is helping to build this evidence, with the help of governments, academics and NGOs.
|Meeting participants at the East Asia and the Pacific Regional Meeting on Research on Violence Against Children, 25-27 June 2013, Bangkok ©UNICEF/2013/Ratasarn|
For more information, please see the meeting website.
* Anna is the Australian Youth Ambassador for Development with UNICEF EAPRO