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How do we monitor violence affecting schoolchildren and efforts to reduce it across the world?

By CEID Blogger, on 30 November 2021

by Jo Heslop, Jenny Parkes and Lucia Quintero Tamez

Violence against children occurs across the world in different contexts, affects all demographic groups, and causes serious harms to their rights, education, health, wellbeing and flourishing. In low and middle income countries, children face multiple forms of violence in and around schools, yet evidence needed to inform effective responses is still limited and uneven. Our team has created a guide for policy makers, practitioners and researchers to assess data availability and utility at country level in low and middle income countries.

Research has highlighted how violence is a social practice, shaped by relationships, norms, structures and conditions in the contexts in which violence occurs. For example, the #MeToo movement has brought to public consciousness how rape is connected to everyday sexual harassment, with both forms of violence situated within power inequalities (and associated impunity) based on gender, wealth, age and status. Similarly, violence affecting children in and around schools taking the form of corporal punishment, bullying, sexual harassment, intimate partner violence and child abuse, can be particularly acute in contexts with high levels of gender inequalities and poverty, which often underpin weak accountability systems in education, justice and child protection. It is important to collect data that reflect these multiple forms and contexts of violence.

There has been increasing global and national effort and coordination around addressing violence affecting schoolchildren in recent years, which has historically been hampered by insufficient evidence and the challenges of collecting robust and ethical data on violence against children. Alongside these intervention efforts there has been a rapid growth in work to collect and monitor data on violence[1]. However, still missing is a unified, coherent approach to what should be measured and how. What gets measured influences what gets prioritized in global and national policy. So there is an urgent need to work towards unified and robust data approaches if we want to effectively tackle violence against children.

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) asked our team to review the data sources available through international surveys to inform their work in this area. We identified four key areas that are important to capture data on: 1) violence prevalence (including the five types mentioned above), 2) children’s responses to violence, 3) norms and structures underpinning violence, and 4) the safety and support provided by the school environment. Many concerned with measuring tend to focus on violence prevalence (1), but our research has highlighted how important it is to capture multiple facets to build a holistic and reliable picture of school violence in a given context. There is an urgent need that data approaches are sufficiently comprehensive, encompassing these four key areas.

There are currently no surveys providing comprehensive data on violence against children across the world. There are, however, a number of surveys that can be used in a patchwork way to provide a useful picture of VAC across many countries. Our guide includes tools to help decision makers to understand and appraise what data are available in a given context. It tracks which surveys have been conducted in which low and middle income countries, and considers their strengths and weaknesses. It also identifies what aspects of data on violence against children in and around schools (for example, types of violence, or norms and structures) are collected by which surveys.

There is much scope to improve the analysis of existing data. For example, the Global School-based Student Health Survey collects data on pupils’ experiences of sexual violence and also on their understanding of sexual negotiation and whether they have been taught about sexual negotiation at school. However, it does not analyse the relationship between these elements, which would be extremely useful for decision makers looking at preventing sexual violence in and around schools. The recent country ‘fact sheets’ on school-related gender-based violence summarise additional analysis of ‘Violence Against Children Survey’ data not presented in original country reports by drilling down into school-related issues, such as highlighting violence experienced by teachers or school peers. In many surveys, questions about violence against children in schools could be better answered by further disaggregation of data (for example a type of violence experienced by age AND education AND province AND urban/rural location). There may well be statistical reasons why this is difficult, but more conversations are needed between funders, decision makers, survey designers and analysts to problem solve and maximise the utility and potential of data that has been collected. Our guide sets out some of these key issues and recommends steps to begin to address these challenges.

In addition to survey data there is also work to be done in exploring the potential for education management information systems (EMIS) to collect and use data on school structures and efforts to prevent and respond to violence. Also, more could be done to better utilise existing qualitative studies which provide rich, contextualised understanding of violence and work in schools. Whilst there is much work to be done, it is encouraging to see that there is a high level of interest,  commitment and collaboration among policy actors and practitioners to  address these issues, and we hope the guide will support these efforts.

[1] For example, the UN-led Global Working Group to end school-related gender-based violence set up a task team to address global monitoring and evidence approaches and has developed global standards of monitoring guidelines.

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