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Mapping evidence for child protection

Written by Ashrita Saran, Evidence Synthesis Specialist, Campbell Collaboration

In principle, children in India are protected by using preventive strategies such as laws on ‘child labour’ and ‘education for all’ and ‘incentives’ for free education. But in the course of my research while travelling throughout Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Bihar I have seen the reality of the plight of vulnerable children deprived of their childhood. In village after village and town after town, I saw that children who worked in coalmines, machinery shops, and crop fields, often engaged in youth gangs and dropped out of school. Some children are abducted and forced to work. How many young people with naïve minds end up as victims of the brutal reality of child labor?

According to the International Labor Organization, at least 120 million children in developing countries between the ages of 5 and 17 work full time. Millions of children worldwide experience multiple violations of their rights, including violence, labour exploitation, early marriage, and female genital mutilation. Whatever the form, this indicates an urgent and growing need for action.  Although strategies, policies and programmes for child protection already exist, there is substantial variation in their effectiveness across countries or regions, and the amount of evidence on which they are based is often minimal.

What we need is a better understanding of the nature, extent and causes of violation of child rights. To be able to develop effective strategies for prevention, there has to be an increased emphasis for generating sound evidence globally. But having evidence is not sufficient in itself; it is equally important to know the quality and its relevance to the context where it is used.

One of the Campbell reviews that aimed to identify the effectiveness of reading and literacy learning programs in developing countries showed that these interventions have a positive effect in some settings and none in others. It also highlighted the importance of replicating studies, in order to determine which children will benefit from these interventions in different settings. The review highlighted an important fact that when policymakers and practitioners select programming, they need to know what will be effective in their particular context, for the population they wish to serve.

We responded to the need for improving the production and use of rigorous evidence for child protection by creating the ‘Campbell-UNICEF Mega Map’. The mega map highlights 16 pre-existing Evidence and Gap Maps (EGM) and 302 systematic reviews on the effectiveness of interventions to improve child welfare in low to middle-income countries.  The evidence is structured by intervention categories, such as child protection services and child rights, and by outcome domains, such as child abuse and child marriage.

Findings of the mega map highlight the limited availability of evidence in the non-traditional areas of child welfare such as of social work, child rights, child safety, risk factor reduction and governance. We identified little or no evidence supporting equity. The health sector yields the most studies, yet a closer look reveals that areas such as mental health, severe acute malnutrition and agriculture interventions/bio-fortification are sparsely covered. This is also true of the education sector, where evidence about constructivist approaches to education, pedagogical approaches and about school reforms is limited.

The mega map provides a visual representation showing areas of good quality evidence in a particular region or country; this data can aid evaluations of the effectiveness of certain interventions. The map also highlights significant gaps in evidence where there is an urgent need for action.

Campbell-UNICEF research briefs summarize the findings of the mega map. This research brief, one of a series of five briefs including UNICEFs strategic goals, provides an overview of all available evidence in the map.

Since this map was only limited to systematic reviews, non-included impact evaluations may be available for these topics. In addition, the next phase of the mega map is ongoing and it is likely to identify further evidence in some of these areas, including grey literature by public policy organizations, think tanks, university-based research institutions, and professional organizations.

Now is the time to establish a sustainable mechanism for generation of evidence by strengthening global initiatives and partnerships. This will help streamline evidence commissioning and generation in the areas of child protection, such as domestic violence, child labour, early marriage, child abuse and harmful practices. The mega map is a step towards building a global repository of evidence synthesis.

You can help support the initiative, and support of our vision of “Better Evidence for a Better World”. For further information email us at [email protected].

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