Ethical Issues in Children's Research

01 June 2006
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 Adapted from reflections in the report by P. J. Lolichen

CWC has time and time again seen children prove that they are capable of conducting their own research and using the information they generate, and that in many situations they are better researchers than adults. They are able to understand and present their own problems much better than anybody else. It is their right to do their own research and use the information to better their own situation.

However, there are some ethical issues when it comes to children doing their own research. Here are a some of CWC's recommendations:

Children must have absolute control over the research process. Adults must not interfere or attempt to dominate it.

Children are quite capable of setting the agenda, designing processes and implementing the research. However, adults also have a specific and strategic role to play, as facilitators of the process. It is very important for us adults to recognise when we need to make observations and offer guidance – and when not to. The experience of CWC clearly shows that the primary role of adults is to provide children with information and skills.

Enabling children’s participation does not mean letting go of the entire process and leaving children to fend for themselves. In a healthy adult-child partnership there is possibility for negotiation.

The children who collect/generate information must have complete ownership over that information. They can decide what to do with it. The adult facilitators should ask the children's permission to use any information they have generated.

Children engage themselves in conducting research because they have a problem that they need to solve. This means that the information that they generate should not be allowed to remain as mere information. Children should be supported in identifying and exploring ways of solving their problems. One of the most important roles adults can play here is to show children how to deal effectively with decision-makers and decision-making structures.

The children who participate as researchers should be members of children’s organisations or collectives so that they can support each other. If they do not have their own organisation, they should be helped to form one. Individual children, however committed and empowered, find it very difficult to sustain the process single-handed.

The child researchers are accountable to those children who provide them with information. Before questioning them they should clearly explain the purpose of the research. The eventual findings of the study must be presented to all the information providers and the strategy for the use of the information should be discussed with them.

Research by children is a part of the empowerment process. The adult facilitators must remember not to rush the research; they must consciously create enough space for the children and move only at their pace.

The children involved in the research must have the absolute right to withdraw from the research at any point in the research process. This is also valid for the respondents in the study.

Any respondent, child or adult, has the right to refuse to respond to particular questions or not to give information regarding particular issues.

The community should be informed about the research and their support and co-operation should be sought.

The tools used in the research should be child-friendly and easily understood by the children and the members of their community. They could be pictorial, so that unfamiliarity with the written word is not a hindrance.

It is preferable that children conduct research in their own socio-cultural and economic milieu. This will help them to collect reliable data. They will be more readily accepted and they will be more at ease in such a milieu.

The adult facilitators should always consider the risks and costs children may face due to their involvement in the research such as shortage of time, pressures at home and school, loss of wages, reduced hours to play, loss of holidays, etc.

The children participating in the research should be helped to draw up a set of ground rules, to which they strictly abide.

The adult facilitators must as far as possible ensure that children are not exposed to any harmful risks during the research.

The active involvement of one or more adult organisations that are committed to promoting and facilitating children’s participation is essential to ensure the sustainability of research by children.

Adults should never impose research themes or research methodologies on children. Prior to any study, the children themselves should recognise the need for the research to meet a specified purpose. Otherwise research by children should not be attempted at all.

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