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Global research partnership on child internet use expands

Important new findings from the Global Kids Online (GKO) research partnership for Bulgaria have recently been made public, while researchers in Chile have just finished nation-wide data collection and are preparing to launch their report in April. In parallel, two new GKO programmes have been initiated in Ghana and the Philippines, where the teams are currently preparing for nationally representative data collection utilizing the GKO research toolkit.Jasmina Byrne, child protection specialist at UNICEF Innocenti and one of the principal investigators on the project explained how evidence on child internet use could have positive policy implications.“Rigorous evidence on children’s internet use can help international and national policy makers develop balanced and informed policy choices that take account of both opportunities and risks. We are delighted to see more countries come on board with the research partnership.”The latest evidence produced by the GKO partnership is based on a national representative survey of 1,000 children in Bulgaria aged 9 to 17 years old and their parents. The findings reveal that children who are deeply exposed to internet use and have a high level of technical digital skill do not always use the full range of online opportunities, and they do not always respond proactively to upsetting online content. Children are accessing the internet on their own at ever younger ages, often unsupervised, raising important questions about the balance between online risks and opportunities and children’s online safety. Findings from Bulgaria show how the average age of first internet use has dropped to 8 years old over the past 6 years. More than 90 per cent use the internet daily and 80 per cent of these children spend at least one hour online per day.  “Today’s Bulgarian children are real digital natives. Most of them use internet and mobile communications almost all the time and often have digital skills superior to those of their parents,” said Georgi Apostolov, coordinator of the Bulgarian Safer Internet Centre which carried out the survey.“This is probably the main reason why parents seems to have reduced the supervision and mediation compared to 6 years ago. However, children start using internet at an earlier age, so they need more mediation in order to develop the necessary social and media skills that will allow them to benefit from the opportunities the internet provides.”Bulgaria becomes the latest country to join the Global Kids Online research partnership, a project that aims to build a global network of researchers and experts in order to generate and sustain cross national evidence on the opportunities and risks of child internet use. Pilot studies utilising the toolkit among children aged 9 – 17 were originally conducted in Argentina, the Philippines, Serbia and South Africa (an overview of key findings from the pilot study can be read here.) Since then, the project has expanded to countries including Montenegro, Ghana and Chile. The GKO pilot study released in late 2016 also found that on average 8 in 10 children accessed the internet via smartphones. More internet access comes with higher exposure to online risk and the safety of children online depends on their digital skills. Better skills also allow children to take more advantage of the opportunities that the internet affords them. A majority of children also report learning new skills online. Around 70 per cent of Bulgarian children report that they learn new things from the Internet every week and almost all of them (96 per cent) agree that the internet offers a lot of useful things for children their age. Half of all children use the internet for schoolwork and 45 per cent to look for news online. Child searches for health information are rare, even among older teenagers. In fact, children in Bulgaria use the internet most often for leisure and entertainment activities, such as watching videos (89 per cent), listening to music (86 per cent), and visiting social networking sites (73 per cent). Playing games and posting pictures and comments are also popular. While children in Bulgaria use the internet to create content rather rarely, they seem competent internet users. Most know how to save a photo they found online (86 per cent), find it easy to choose terms for their online searches (78 per cent), or how to install an app (77 per cent) and check mobile app prices (67 per cent). They are also able to access their information from various devices they use (70 per cent) and know how to change the privacy settings of their online profiles (73 per cent). The increased use of the internet, however, has created more exposure to risk, especially for older children. Over the past year, 15 per cent of children in Bulgaria have experienced something online that bothered or upset them compared to 9 per cent in 2010. About one third of all survey participants have seen online pornographic content, which was upsetting for almost half of these children. A third of the children have encountered online hate speech or seen violent online materials, including images and videos of murders and executions, which was exceptionally or very upsetting for nearly half of the children. Most children talk to family and friends when they experience something negative online but nearly one in 5 children do not speak to anybody. Parents and carers are the main source of support (70 per cent of children turn to them), followed by friends (36 per cent) and siblings (12 per cent). Teachers or other professionals are very rarely sought for support in such cases (respectively 4 and 1 per cent respectively). In addition, a significant number of children (18 per cent) do not talk to anybody and this proportion has increased considerably since 2010 (4 per cent). For more information, visit www.globalkidsonline.net. Join the conversation on social media at #GlobalKidsOnline. (14 February 2017)
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Complexity, prevalence of violence affecting children revealed in multi-country study

New findings by UNICEF Innocenti and its partners present a clearer picture of the main drivers of physical, sexual and emotional violence affecting children across four countries. The Cross Country Snapshot of Findings from UNICEF Innocenti’s study on the drivers of violence affecting children examines the way individual characteristics, relationships, communities, institutions and structural factors increase or reduce a child’s experience of violence in Italy, Peru, Viet Nam and Zimbabwe. An important priority of the study is increased understanding of effective national strategies for preventing child violence. It is being conducted in collaboration with the University of Edinburgh, University of Oxford's Young Lives longitudinal study, UNICEF country offices, key ministries, national researchers and practitioners.    “There is increasing data indicating that violence is prevalent across societies but if we can’t understand what’s behind that violence and what’s driving it, then we’ll never solve the problem of preventing it. This is research that intends to drive change,” said Catherine Maternowska, UNICEF Innocenti child protection specialist and lead researcher on the project.“The study never forgets that these four countries have historical, political and social stories and events that shape everyday life. When you analyse the risk factors in the context of a country’s ‘social ecology,’ you start to understand the complexity of this phenomena.”  “We wanted to use existing national data—as an alternative model to large scale and often expensive surveys. A key aspect of the study is building on existing data: it has already been collected, and has so much more to tell us if we ask the right questions!” The process involved a systematic literature review of academic papers, a secondary analysis of 10 national data sets and a preliminary mapping of each country’s violence intervention strategies. More than 500 research studies were reviewed.Emerging findingsSexual violence – Girls are much more likely to experience sexual violence than boys; however, boys are also affected yet they are far less likely to be asked about sexual violence in surveys. Lifetime prevalence of any sexual violence among girls is 18 per cent in Zimbabwe, 13 per cent in Peru and 6 per cent in Italy. Physical violence – Boys and girls experience comparable rates of physical violence at home or in school. Estimates from primary analyses of national data sets show that approximately 1 in 2 children in Peru have been beaten with objects such as belts and sticks at home and 3 in 5 boys and half of girls in Zimbabwe experience physical violence at the hands of a parent or adult prior to the age of 18. Based on Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys roughly 2 in 3 children aged 1 – 14 years have experienced violent discipline in the home in Viet Nam and Zimbabwe in the previous month. Emotional violence – Although more difficult to define and measure, the Cross Country Snapshot also tracks the prevalence of emotional violence affecting children. In Peru, more than 2 in 3 children (69 per cent) reported experiencing peer to peer psychological violence in their lives. In Viet Nam almost 60 per cent of children under 14 years have witnessed psychological aggression in the home. In Zimbabwe more than a third of children report experiencing emotional violence.  In Italy, 19 per cent of children assisted by social services had witnessed domestic violence. Emotional violence can be perpetrated by various actors: parents, peers, siblings and teachers.Violence at homeAccording to nationally representative surveys from the four countries, violent discipline in the home is widespread across the countries and contributes to a heightened risk of violence at school, the community and online. From two thirds to three quarters of children report violent discipline in the home. In Peru 3 out of 4 parents reported using verbal punishment as a main form of punishment. In Italy, two thirds of parents reported using corporal punishment against their child during the last month. In Viet Nam and Zimbabwe 69 per cent and 63 per cent respectively, of children aged 1 – 14 years reported witnessing violent discipline in the last month.Violent schoolsSchools are found to be a significant setting where children are exposed to multiple forms of violence from corporal punishment to bullying. Data from the Young Lives longitudinal study conducted by the University of Oxford show that between 20 and 30 per cent of children in Peru and Viet Nam respectively were beaten by their teachers. Corporal punishment at age 8 is linked to lower math scores in Peru and lower self-esteem in Viet Nam at age 15. Fluid and shifting influencesViolence emerges as a complex socio-economic phenomenon – not merely as an interaction between child and individual – but rather as a fluid and shifting influence in children’s lives as they move between the home, the school and the community interacting with an array of peers and adults. The findings make it difficult to compare violence affecting children in various national contexts due to the differences in cultural, historical and political realities.    Understanding, for example, what drives violence against a 7-year old boy may be quite different than that which affects a 14-year old girl, with different societal and individual consequences. The role of power impacts heavily on this process and can shift in both positive and negative ways as children grow-up. Research shows that violent behaviour is passed through generations and is learned through childhood. Addressing unequal power dynamics in the home, school and community is central to effective violence prevention strategies. Mapping the ecology of violence Researchers and policy makers are seldom able to fully address the complex risk factors and drivers of violence in children’s lives. The new findings help to establish a socio ecological framework to better map the factors that increase or decrease a child’s likelihood of experiencing violence. Major drivers of violence at the structural level include rapid national transition accompanied by economic fluctuation, instability, poverty and migration both within and between countries which may increase the risk of sexual and physical exploitation and abuse. Children’s vulnerabilities to violence also arise as a result of institutional drivers including ineffective child protection systems, weak school governance and harmful cultural and social norms.Community risk factors identified in the study include harmful cultural practices and social norms and in some cases the code of silence that exists around violence. Interpersonal risk factors take into account family structures and contexts including marital status, parents’ histories of abuse, education and family stress among others. Individual risk factors include vulnerabilities due to age, ethnicity and disability and beliefs about gender roles and the acceptability of violence. Violence affecting children encompasses a spectrum of forms, including physical, sexual and emotional maltreatment which comprise the three main priorities of the Innocenti multi country study. Local ownership of researchA fundamental aspect of the Multi-Country Study is local institutional ownership of data and policy outcomes. In several cases important national legislation and policy advocacy resulted only after participating governments and research partners took ‘ownership’ of the data on violence affecting children, providing a vital aspect of understanding what drives violence against children in their countries.“It was a human-centred, bottom-up [data gathering] approach exhaustively compiled and built on existing research led by national actors,” said Maternowska. “That is crucial because national teams analysed  and interpreted their data- there was no exporting the data or telling them what a number means.” “We localized the research process. Countries took ownership and in doing so are also now taking responsibility for solving the challenge of violence.”  (8 February 2017)
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Leading experts meet to review evidence gaps on children and care work

Whether they mind their siblings, look after the sick and elderly, or lend a hand with household chores, children are engaged in providing care the world over. However, most care work performed by children remains invisible, taking place in private spaces, away from the public eye and far from government policy agendas. In order to foster discussion on the issue of children and care work in low and middle-income countries, UNICEF’s Office of Research - Innocenti recently convened an expert’s round-table in Florence. The meeting was attended by a group of leading scholars in relevant fields. “We would like to start a conversation on how care work impacts on children’s well-being,” said Sarah Cook, Director of UNICEF Innocenti, “The aim is to bring together the evidence and create a narrative that can help put this issue on national and global policy agendas.”The discussion drew on expertise across a range of research and practice sectors – child rights, gender, care, economics, social policy, time-use analysis and social statistics – to explore the relationship between care provision and child well-being. Topics discussed included the distribution of care responsibilities among household members, and between family, society and the state; the impact of women’s employment on care provision and outcomes for children; different models for the provision and financing of care, and research methods and the availability of data.The special nature of care work and the complexity of distinguishing between different forms of care were examined. Diane Elson, of the University of Essex, stressed the need for a clear distinction between paid and unpaid care work, and between care work and other forms of domestic work. The important concept of a “threshold” for bench-marking when care work may lead to positive or negative impacts on child well-being was also discussed. Elson noted that an essential component of care work is an emotional element in the relationship between the carer and person cared for – whether provided by a family member, or through social or other services. This relationship can have positive consequences for a child’s well-being and needs to be recognised in any response. Surveys and qualitative research conducted among child caregivers in Latin America and Africa show that when children care for close family members, they may gain skills, have positive experiences and learn from adults and elders. They may gain an increased sense of self-esteem due to recognition received for their contribution to the well-being of their family. Children may thus need to be supported in their role as carers, rather than having this responsibility removed from them.Understanding when care work shifts from being a positive to a harmful experience for children is an important challenge. Shirin M. Rai, at the University of Warwick, highlighted the difficulties in identifying such “thresholds” which depend on numerous factors. These include the age of the caregiver, the emotional involvement of the child, the nature of tasks being performed, the context in which they are carried out and the amount of time and responsibility involved. Elsbeth Robson, of Hull University, pointed out that it is important for government and policy makers to listen to the views of child caregivers. “In many countries young carers call for more support to carry on their care work,” she said. “They ask for solutions that can help them to free some time from care duties, share experiences among other child caregivers, while they continue taking care of family members.”The second day of the round-table was devoted to a discussion of data availability and research methods. Panelists highlighted opportunities and limitations of using qualitative and quantitative evidence, as well as the importance of longitudinal studies to track and understand the transitions of children into adulthood and their patterns of time use.In particular experts stressed the need of more qualitative research to better understand children’s engagement in care and domestic work, by matching data on time use with information about household socio-economic status, the quality of care and emotional engagement of children.Questions about ethics in data and research were also raised in the discussion. All participants warned about the need to be extremely careful when asking respondents for their time in the context of time poverty. Moreover, the issue of collecting potentially harmful or sensitive information when secure storage and archival is not assured was also addressed. Evidence generation is only the first step needed as part of a broader effort to trigger policy shifts on children and care work. Efforts need to be put in place to communicate evidence and advocate for policy change. However, policy change can be challenging in a context where children (and women) caregivers are often not politically represented nor organized or mobilized.After two days of detailed exchange enriched by the diversity of expertise among the participants, contributors expressed their willingness to continue dialogue, in order to shed more light on a global phenomenon that impacts profoundly on child well-being yet remains poorly understood and largely invisible to public policy.Full report: Care Work and Children: An Expert Roundtable (9 January 2017)
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Council of Europe Parliamentarians discuss measures against online child sexual abuse

UNICEF Innocenti has hosted a major meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) where combatting online child sexual abuse was a major topic of discussion.The meeting, held in Florence on 1 December, brought together the PACE Network of contact parliamentarians from up to 16 countries together with representatives of UNICEF Innocenti, INTERPOL, Middlesex University and ECPAT International, among others.Members adopted the Florence Declaration which underlined the need for sound legislative frameworks based on the Lanzarote Convention to protect children from new forms of sexual abuse in the digital environment. The Lanzarote Convention commits 42 signatory countries in Europe and beyond to criminalization of all forms of sexual offences against children, and specifies adoption of legislation to prevent sexual violence and prosecute perpetrators. New forms of online child sexual abuse addressed in the meeting included: live streaming, self-generated images by children, online grooming and virtual reality. The ‘dark web’ was also cited as a part of the internet increasingly being used to share child sexual content online. The Declaration also recognised the need to support victims of child sexual abuse. “Online, children can encounter abuse and exploitation from peers and adults alike. Exposure to harmful material and violation of privacy are ever present concerns,” said Gabriella Battaini-Dragoni, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe.“It is the responsibility of all of us to meet these challenges in a manner which is strategic, cooperative and has a firm grounding in human rights.”Cecile Diot, criminal intelligence officer at INTERPOL called for a multi-disciplinary approach to tackling the issue and told parliamentarians it was crucial for NGO’s, private companies and civil society to work ever more closely to overcome the problem. It was estimated 80 per cent of content on the so-called dark web was related to child sexual abuse, she said. ”Altogether we may have a chance to defeat this criminality. We need a network to defeat a network,” said Ms. Diot.  Talks also focused on supporting parents, families and caregivers in protecting and empowering children against sexual violence in the digital environment, a key part of the declaration adopted by MP's. “Parents are an example of how to behave and what to do. If we as parents are inseparable with digital devices, our kids will do the same,” said Sevinj Fataliyeva, a parliamentarian from Azerbaijan. Dutch legislator Johan Van Der Hout said efforts to tackle child sexual abuse online were primitive if children’s voices were not accounted for. He called for a child-centred approach to the issue. “We have to empower them [children] on the internet. We cannot take it away,” he said. The views were mirrored by criminologist and Middlesex University researcher Elena Martellozzo, who conducts research on how children feel when exposed to sexual content online. Ms. Martellozzo said children were being exposed to online sexual content at earlier ages and there is a need to better understand the impact. “We need to focus on empowering young children. We need to focus on what they can be exposed to so they can have a better online environment which is a wonderful environment,” she said. “Critically engage with them about the material they find online.”Researchers from UNICEF Innocenti also presented Global Kids Online as a model for improving evidence on children’s experiences online. The global Research Synthesis pilot study on child internet use conducted by UNICEF Innocenti and the London School of Economics explores the opportunities and risks of the internet for children. According to the study up to two thirds of children in some countries have seen sexual content online, while a minority had contact with unknown persons online. Despite potential risks, research showed that most children had met persons with some kind of prior connection to them, such as a fellow classmate or community member. Parents also reported low digital skills, complicating potential risks to children online.“The conversation of what children do online should be part of the general discussion with children. It backfires when trying to ban kids from using phones,” said Jasmina Byrne, child protection specialist at UNICEF Innocenti.“In order to combat sexual violence against children we need legal and policy measures above all.”(6 December 2016)
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