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Methodological, ethical and safety considerations

Last edited: November 14, 2016

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What are the methodological considerations for measuring SRGBV?


Research on SRGBV is highly sensitive to methodological approaches (Leach, 2006). Researchers collecting data on SRGBV should consider the following methodological issues:


  • Definitions of SRGBV: For all study designs, it is important to avoid ambiguity of terms such as ‘bullying’, ‘harassment’, ‘violence’ or ‘corporal punishment’, which are open to interpretation. Instead, researchers should name actual acts of violence, which are less subject to interpretation and can strengthen study validity. For example, ‘pulled at my clothes’, ‘made bad comments and jokes about my looks’, ‘threatened to hurt me’, ‘slapped’ or ‘offered to give me a good mark for sex’ (RTI International, 2015b).


  • Clarification of time parameters: Surveys of SRGBV and violence against children have used a range of different time periods to assess prevalence. For example:
    • The international Violence against Children survey (VACS) asks about experiences of different types of violence ‘in the last 12 months’, as well as age at first incidence.
    • Plan International and the International Center for Research on Women’s (2011) SRGBV research in five countries in Asia asked about experience of violence in schools ‘in last 6 months’.
    • The World Health Organization’s Global School-based Student Health Survey (GSHS) asks about verbal and physical bullying ‘over the past 30 days’.
    • International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (ISPCAN) Child Abuse Screening Tool asks about lifetime experiences of violence as well as experiences of violence over the past week.


To date, there is no consensus over which time parameter is most appropriate for SRGBV research – much will depend upon the nature and purpose of the research. However, it is important to keep in mind that longer timeframes are more difficult for young children to remember. To overcome this challenge, timeframes can be anchored to events such as the start of an academic year.


  • Non-response or ‘under-counting’: Respondents may not wish to disclose that they have experienced violence, possibly due to fear of reprisals, taboos or feelings of guilt or shame. In some cases, children and young people may not view a certain experience as an act of violence or abuse, as they may consider it to be normal. Formative research can help identify differences in language, as well as helping students learn themselves what is appropriate and inappropriate behaviour.


  • Double (or over) counting: When service-based data is used, it may be that a person or incident is counted more than once. There may even be cases of over-reporting by participants/perpetrators, where violence against girls may be considered a demonstration of masculinity.
  • Sampling bias and location of study: School-based studies run the risk of sampling bias, with fear of violence and fear of disclosing violence impacting school attendance on the day of the study. Household surveys have also been used to measure SRGBV, although these can also present methodological and ethical concerns due to violence that may exist in the home (RTI International, 2015b).


  • Use of child-friendly methodologies and trained enumerators are essential to measure change and to elicit information on sensitive issues from children and young people.


  • Respecting privacy and confidentiality means ensuring privacy with regard to how much information the child wants to reveal or share, and with whom; privacy in the processes of information gathering/data collection and storage that allows the exchange of information to be confidential to those involved; and privacy of the research participants so that they are not identifiable in the publication and dissemination of findings.


For many of the methodological issues above, there is no easy solution. Care must be taken in the presentation and analysis of data. For example, researchers should be careful to qualify in their reporting that service-based statistics only reflect reported cases and there is potential for ‘under-counting’ as well as ‘double-counting’. 

Informed consent is vital for the protection of all those involved in research and to ensure that information about data protection and other risks are clear to any participants. Wherever children under the age of 18 are involved in research, the consent of caregivers, parents or guardians is required. Depending on the age of the child (usually 16 or over), consent from both the child and the caregiver or guardian is needed.

Informed consent – core principles

  1. Consent involves an explicit act, such as verbal or written agreement.
  2. Consent can only be given if the participants are informed about and have an understanding of the research.
  3. Consent must be given voluntarily without coercion.
  4. Consent must be renegotiable so that children may withdraw at any stage of the research process.

Source: Gallagher (2009)

Informed consent protocols from parents/caregivers and children are an essential requirement for ethical studies on SRGBV. Where parents and caregivers’ literacy is not known, researchers have arranged events to provide verbal information about their studies, answer questions, distribute and collect consent forms (RTI International, 2015b). Researchers also need to be prepared for disclosures by children during research and have clear protocols in place to deal with such situations, including information about their legal and ethical obligations and the referral pathways. This is particularly challenging where there are weak legal, health and education systems. It is important that researchers are aware of all options. 

Types of informed consent



Examples of SRGBV studies

Passive consent

Sending information home to parents about the study, but not requiring a signed consent form for the child to participate


Higher response rates with more children involved. 



Some say it is ‘ethically questionable’ (Range et al, 2001)


Espelage et al, 2012; Mansour and Karam, 2012

Active consent

Requires parents return a signed form in order for children to engage in research


Ensures that parents understand and agree to their child’s participation


May exclude children whose parents forget to return the form or cannot read the form


Crapanzano et al, 2011; Stelko-Pereira & Williams, 2013

Adapted from RTI International (2015b)


Ethical and safety considerations for measuring SRGBV

Research and M&E on SRGBV raises several ethical and safety challenges in terms of working with children and young people on sensitive issues of violence and deeply entrenched norms around gender and sexuality. Research involving children and young people should be conducted in accordance with the International Charter for Ethical Research Involving Children.

In addition to the broader ethical issues and challenges involved in conducting research with children, there are also specific considerations around violence. Although there are currently no specific guidelines for SRGBV research, there are several useful resources on research on violence against women and girls, including the WHO’s ethical and safety recommendations on domestic violence against women (2001) and sexual violence in emergencies (2007), which can be adapted for SRGBV M&E and research. For example, WHO (2001) recommends that ‘fieldworkers should be trained to refer women requesting assistance to available local services and sources of support. Where few resources exist, it may be necessary for the study to create short-term support mechanisms’. This wording could be adapted from ‘women’ to ‘children’.

International Charter for Ethical Research Involving Children: Key Commitments

Ethics in research involving children is everyone’s responsibility: We, the research community, including all who participate in undertaking, commissioning, funding and reviewing research, are responsible for ensuring that the highest ethical standards are met in all research involving children, regardless of research approach, focus or context.

Respecting the dignity of children is core to ethical research: Ethical research is conducted with integrity and is respectful of children, their views and their cultures. Involving children respectfully requires that researchers recognise children’s status and evolving capacities and value their diverse contributions.

Research involving children must be just and equitable: Children involved in research are entitled to justice. This requires that all children are treated equally, the benefits and burdens of participating are distributed fairly, children are not unfairly excluded and that barriers to involvement based on discrimination are challenged.

Ethical research benefits children: Researchers must ensure that research maximizes benefits to children, individually and/or as a social group. The researcher bears primary responsibility for considering whether the research should be undertaken and for assessing whether research will benefit children, during and as a consequence of the research process.

Children should never be harmed by their participation in research: Researchers must work to prevent any potential risks of harm and assess whether the need to involve the individual child is justified.

Research must always obtain children’s informed and ongoing consent: Children’s consent must always be sought, alongside parental consent and any other requirements that are necessary for the research to proceed ethically. Consent needs to be based on a balanced and fair understanding of what is involved throughout and after the research process. Indications of children’s dissent or withdrawal must always be respected.

Ethical research requires ongoing reflection: Undertaking research involving children is important. Ethical research demands that researchers continually reflect on their practice, well beyond any formal ethical review requirements. It requires ongoing attention to the assumptions, values, beliefs and practices that influence the research process and impact on children.

Source: UNICEF – see