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Understanding child experiences boosts effort to end violence

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Understanding experience of VAC

The Tigray Region of Ethiopia has been affected by severe shortage of drinking water. Innocenti's "Understanding Children's Experience of Violence" research in Ethiopia, India, Peru and Viet Nam finds strong links between economic shocks and violence affecting children.

Physical and emotional violence are pervasive and largely accepted aspects of children’s lives, according to a set of recently published studies. Interviews with children and their caregivers over nearly a decade in Ethiopia, India, Peru and Viet Nam provide researchers with important new insights on the way violence impacts children as they grow up.

The new findings have been published in the “Understanding Children’s Experiences of Violence” series of working papers produced by the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti in collaboration with the University of Oxford’s Young Lives research initiative. The papers comprise the latest evidence to emerge from UNICEF’s Multi-Country Study on the Drivers of Violence Affecting Children.

“Violence is pervasive in children’s lives – impacting them in the family, in schools, and in the community – and this research, based on interviews with the same children over many years, paints a clearer picture of the intergenerational transmission of violence,” said Catherine Maternowska, UNICEF Innocenti’s lead researcher on the project.

“Understanding how violence affects children as they move through childhood, adolescence and later into young adulthood, gives us important insights into change in a child’s capacities and in the environments where they live, sleep, study and play”.

The new papers reveal unique aspects of the way children from four very different corners of the world perceive and cope with violence. A number of issues also appear to be in common among them as well.

Qualitative research conducted by Young Lives addressed children’s well-being, their experiences of transitions (for example, changing schools), and their time-use and daily experiences. Multiple qualitative research methods were used including one-to-one interviews, group discussions and creative activities (such as drawings of a child ‘doing well’ or ’doing badly’), and body mapping carried out in 2007, 2008, 2011 and 2014.

In Ethiopia between 130 and 150 interviews were conducted with children and caregivers in each round. In India some 400 children and caregivers were interviewed in each round. In Viet Nam 72 children and caregivers were interviewed in each round. In Peru 100 children and caregivers participated in the interviews.

A highly important component of the Understanding Children’s Experiences of Violence series is the documentation of children’s narratives over time, as children enter into adulthood. In some cases children participating in the study were married by the time of the most recent round of interviews was completed. These narratives provide powerful new documentation which can help direct more effective interventions.

Ravi’s story from the India qualitative interviews provides a good example. As a small child, Ravi witnessed his father beating his mother and he attempted to intervene. He also went on to try and protect his sister from her violent husband.

At age 13 Ravi told researchers:

“When my mum and dad fight I feel very bad. When my dad beats my mum we try and stop him.”

But as a married man, aged 21, Ravi is resorting to violence against his own wife.

“When she tells lies she gets a beating. Every day. She won’t keep quiet. I get angry. If I go out somewhere, she will say: ‘Why did you take so long?’ ”

According to Catherine Maternowska: “Stories like Ravi’s provide powerful data which helps us understand how and when we can effectively intervene to prevent violence. At age 12, when Ravi was very opposed to violence, a supportive violence prevention programme addressing the consolidation of gender norms before they set in could have possibly helped change his desire to use violence later in life.”

The Multi-Country Study on the Drivers of Violence Affecting Children undertakes research primarily in Italy, Peru, Viet Nam and Zimbabwe examining the way structural, institutional, community and individual factors interact to affect violence in children’s lives, with a particular focus on the risks and experiences of violence by gender and age.

Complementing the study, a number of papers have been produced using the longitudinal quantitative and qualitative data produced by the Young Lives research initiative. Young Lives is an international study of childhood poverty, initiated in 2000, which has followed 12,000 children in Ethiopia, India (in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana), Peru and Viet Nam. This set of papers aims to understand various aspects of children’s experiences of violence, and the impacts of violence on children’s lives over time, across different settings.

Read more on the Multi Country Study on the Drivers of Violence Affecting Children. Listen to a recent interview with UNICEF Innocenti researcher, Catherine Maternowska on the drivers of violence against children or read her latest blog reflecting on the way research is changing the way Peru is fighting violence against children.

(21 November 2016)