Understanding Violence Affecting Children in Ethiopia: a Qualitative Study

Poverty and inequality
Community change
Child protection
Working paper


This working paper describes a sub-study  by Young Lives Ethiopia on conceptualisations and understandings of violence affecting children and youth in three Ethiopian communities (one rural, two urban). Qualitative research was undertaken in May 2017, in two phases, with a total of 120 participants, using individual interviews and group discussions with children, young adults, caregivers, and professionals. 

The study found a range of terms for and definitions of violence, with differences between the rural (Oromiffa-speaking) area, where violence included harm caused by poverty, and the two urban (Amharic-speaking) sites, where violence included abuse and exploitation.  Some forms of violence were considered acceptable or unacceptable according to age and gender.  Children were said to be punished at home or at school for a range or reasons, and violence was widely understood to have lasting negative effects.  Children sought support from a range of people - mostly kin and friends, but occasionally from school clubs, headteachers, parent-teacher associations, and the police.  There were powerful barriers to reporting sexual assault and rape. 

Generally, participants reported that there has been a reduction in violence overall, though some violent practices continued, and there was a sense that gender-based violence had increased, especially harassment of older girls.  A marked intergenerational change was widely reported - especially in relation to reductions in the use of severe corporal punishment by parents - and was seen as a response to much greater awareness among caregivers of changes in the law and children's rights. 

A latent class approach to understanding patterns of peer victimization in four low-resource settings.

Child protection
Journal Article


Peer victimization is a common form of aggression among school-aged youth, but research is sparse regarding victimization dynamics in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC). Person-centered approaches have demonstrated utility in understanding patterns of victimization in the USA.


The authors aimed to empirically identify classes of youth with unique victimization patterns in four low- and middle-income country settings using latent class analysis (LCA).


The authors used data on past-year exposure to nine forms of victimization reported by 3536 youth (aged 15 years) from the Young Lives (YL) study in Ethiopia, India (Andhra Pradesh and Telangana states), Peru, and Vietnam. Sex and rural/urban context were examined as predictors of class membership.


LCA supported a 2-class model in Peru, a 3-class model in Ethiopia and Vietnam, and a 4-class model in India. Classes were predominantly ordered by severity, suggesting that youth who experienced one form of victimization were likely to experience other forms as well. In India, two unordered classes were also observed, characterized by direct and indirect victimization. Boys were more likely than girls to be in the highly victimized (HV) class in Ethiopia and India. Urban contexts, compared with rural, conferred higher risk of victimization in Ethiopia and Peru, and lower risk in India and Vietnam.


The identified patterns of multiple forms of victimization highlight a limitation of common researcher-driven classifications and suggest avenues for future person-centered research to improve intervention development in low- and middle-income country settings.


adolescence; bullying; international; peer victimization

A latent class approach to understanding patterns of peer victimization in four low-resource settings Amanda J. Nguyen,Catherine Bradshaw, Lisa Townsend, Alden L. Gross, Judith Bass

Child Research & Practice Forum (CRPF) Monthly Seminar

Federal Ministry of Women and Children Affairs, Addis Ababa
Alula Pankhurst

The CRPF started in September 2010 with the main objectives of linking research, practice and policy. Young Lives Ethiopia currently coordinates the forum with logistical support from UNICEF. The forum holds a monthly lseminar where research on children is presented for a number of participants followed by debates and discussion.

This months presentations:


Combating Violence against Children in Africa: A Framework for Civil Society Advocacy by African Child Policy Forum (ACPF).

Violence against Children: A Review of Qualitative Evidence: Shimelis Tsegaye of ACPF and Alula Pankhurst and Nathan Nigussie of Young Lives Ethiopia.




Understanding Children’s Experiences of Violence in Ethiopia: Evidence from Young Lives

Child protection
Working paper

This research report explores children’s accounts of everyday violence in Ethiopia, and the ways in which factors at individual, family, community, institutional and society levels affect children’s experiences of violence. The report primarily draws on analysis of four rounds of longitudinal qualitative data gathered over seven years, complemented with analysis of cross-sectional survey data from Young Lives. Findings show that violence affecting children – mostly physical punishment and emotional abuse – is widespread, accepted, and normalized. Differing economic activities affect family dynamics and the likelihood of children experiencing violence, which is often linked to the challenges of poverty and the expectation that children will contribute to the household economy.

Download  Understanding Children’s Experiences of Violence in Ethiopia: Evidence from Young Lives.

Experiences of Peer Bullying among Adolescents & Associated Effects on Young Adult Outcomes: Longitudinal Evidence from Ethiopia, India, Peru and Viet Nam

Gender, adolescence & youth
Child protection
Working paper

Globally it is estimated that more than one in three students between the ages of 13 and 15 are regularly bullied by peers. Being bullied has been found to have a significant impact on children’s physical and mental health, psychosocial well-being and educational performance, with lasting effects into adulthood on health, well-being and lifetime earnings. Most research, including cross-cultural comparative work, has focused on high-income countries, identifying a range of predictors and effects associated with being bullied. Far less is known about bullying in low- and middle-income countries.

This paper is a contribution to the UNICEF Multi-Country Study on the Drivers of Violence Affecting Children, which analyses how structural factors interact to affect everyday violence in children’s homes, schools and communities. The results of the multi-country study intend to inform national strategies for violence prevention.

We use longitudinal data from the Young Lives study of childhood poverty to address three core questions:

  • Which children are bullied and how at age 15?
  • What is associated with certain groups of children being bullied?
  • Are there long-term associations between being bullied at age 15 with psychosocial indicators (self-efficacy, self-esteem, parent relations and peer relations) at age 19?

Key findings:

• Indirect bullying, such as measures to humiliate and socially exclude others, is the most prevalent type of bullying experienced at age 15 across three of the four countries, ranging from 15 per cent of children in Ethiopia to 28 per cent in India.

• Verbal bullying is also prevalent, affecting a third of children in Peru and a quarter in India.

•Physical bullying is the least prevalent form and lower than the other types, with the exception of India where the rate of children experiencing physical bullying is similar to other types of bullying.

•Boys are at greater risk than girls of being physically and verbally bullied and girls are more likely to be bullied indirectly.

•Poorer children are consistently more likely to be bullied in India and experience some types of bullying (physical, social exclusion and attacks on property) in Viet Nam than their less poor peers.


Download Experiences of Peer Bullying among Adolescents and Associated Effects on Young Adult Outcomes: Longitudinal Evidence from Ethiopia, India, Peru and Viet Nam

Undermining Learning: Multi-Country Longitudinal Evidence on Corporal Punishment in Schools

Child protection
Policy paper

Globally the use of corporal punishment in schools is increasingly prohibited in law, yet in many countries its use continues, even where outlawed. Proponents argue that it is an effective and non-harmful means of instilling discipline, respect and obedience in children, while others point to a series of detrimental effects, including physical harm, poor academic performance, low class participation, school dropout and declining psychosocial well-being. Using longitudinal data from Young Lives, this Brief summarises research examining whether corporal punishment in schools is associated with lasting effects on children’s cognitive development.The brief is part of the UNICEF Multi-Country Study on the Drivers of Violence Affecting Children.

We find that corporal punishment in schools is highly prevalent, despite legal prohibition, with younger children, boys and poor children at greater risk. Violence in schools, including physical and verbal abuse by teachers and peers, is the foremost reason children aged 8 give for disliking school. Corporal punishment experienced at age 8 is negatively associated with maths scores at age 12 in India, Peru and Viet Nam. The associated negative effect of corporal punishment on maths scores at age 12 is equivalent to the child’s caregiver having between three and six years less education. Legislation, teacher training, addressing gender and social norms and greater international and national prioritisation of tackling violence affecting children, all play a part in building safe, supportive and enabling environments so that every child can flourish.

New study: Hitting children in school linked with poorer test scores later on

Submitted by remote on Thu, 11/19/2015 - 11:12

A new study from Young Lives shows that corporal punishment is still common in countries where it is outlawed, and have shown a link between schoolchildren experiencing corporal punishment and later test scores. Our researchers found that corporal punishment experienced by eight-year-old children is linked with lower maths scores when the same children reach the age of 12 as compared with their peers who did not report being hit. The research based on surveys also reveals that boys and poorer children were the most likely to report being struck by their teachers.

What needs to be done to keep child marriages trending down

Ethiopia Girl Summit

This blog originally appeared in The Conversation  on 23 June 2015

The broader African and international lobby against child marriage and other harmful traditional practices has grown tremendously in recent years. Its political clout is being felt right down to the grassroots level with positive outcomes.

These campaigns are being stepped up. Last week, the African Union launched a campaign to end child marriage in Africa. This produced a common position on ending child marriage.

Last week also saw the annual Day of the African Child (June 16). Joined-up thinking and campaigning led to this year’s theme of accelerating collective efforts to end Child Marriage in Africa.

To galvanise all this support and translate commitments to action, the Ethiopian government has planned a National Girl’s Summit on June 25. This follows a similar summit in London last year, where the country committed to ending female genital mutilation and child, early and forced marriage by 2025.

Early marriages declining in Ethiopia

The good news is that early marriage is on the decline in Ethiopia. There are multiple reasons for this, though policy change and implementation of programmes have no doubt played a large part.

Over the past decade, there have been a number of government advocacy campaigns and projects supported by donors and NGOs. The Revised Family Proclamation of 2000 Article 7 prohibited marriage under the age of 18. By 2008, six of the nine federal states had enacted their respective laws which had begun to take effect in the regions from 2003. Two regions have still to amend their laws. Enforcement has tended to involve fines and, occasionally, imprisonment.

But the decline is also due to the rapidly changing social and economic environment in Ethiopia. With greater access to education, radio, satellite TV and mobile phones – as well as employment and migration of youth – there are opportunities for them to learn about the world and question prevailing cultural assumptions.

There has also been an intergenerational shift in attitudes and expectations. In one of our research interviews, a mother from Leki in Oromia describes the tension this has caused between generations:

Our parents used to give us to somebody we do not know and collect their bride wealth … they cover our head with a shawl and put us on horseback to ride us to groom’s house … it was like sending us into a prison … Now, if I marry off my daughter [against] her interest, she will refuse and oblige me to pay back any bride wealth I take.

Reflecting on what influenced them in deciding about the marriage of their children and grandchildren, parents and grandparents commonly refer to their own past difficulties arising from early marriage.

Early marriage may be viewed as a rational option by parents under certain circumstances, including when girls’ education is limited. Reuters/Radu Sigheti  

Rationales for child marriage

The reality is that, culture and tradition aside, poverty is the basic underlying rationale for early marriage. In certain contexts, early marriage may be viewed as a rational option by parents and sometimes girls.

Factors include girls having few other opportunities. Their education is limited and chances of training or employment restricted.

Marriage payments can provide support for parents. Bride wealth payments, which are customary in southern Ethiopia, can be an important source of income for girls’ families. It enables them to meet various needs and marry off their sons.

Promising their children in marriage while still young was a strategy in Amhara to form family alliances and ensure that the young couple were endowed with property to start a new household.

By marrying their daughters early, parents feel they are reducing the risk of them engaging in pre-marital sex. This redues the risk of exposing them to sexually transmitted diseases – notably HIV/AIDS – and the risk of pregnancy, unsafe abortion, or disgrace and social stigmatisation if they have a child while unmarried.

Young women who have a child out of wedlock often won’t get support from the father and may be repudiated by their parents. Finding work for young women is hard enough when they are on their own. Creche and preschool facilities are often nonexistent or unaffordable, and employers will often not accept a young woman with a child.

In a context of low life expectancy, parents are keen to ensure their daughters find respectable husbands while they are alive, and by marrying early have enough children that survive. In the absence of alternative social security, parents hope to have grandchildren to look after them in old age.

Despite the winds of change, not all parents – or indeed girls or the boys who wish to marry them – are convinced that these practices are wrong.

Changing hearts and minds

In terms of implementing the law, the birth registration system being put in place is important. But in the short term, the exact age of girls is difficult to certify and some parents or girls have claimed they are older so they can marry without risking prosecution.

The law can also have unintended adverse consequences. Some girls may also defy the law, arguing that it is their right to choose to marry early – making it difficult to prosecute them.

If legal sanctions are imposed without a genuine change of heart and people being convinced of the harm, the practices can go underground.

Much of the current campaigns’ focus is rightly on girls, particularly through schools and the media. Empowerment of the girls is clearly key to bringing about change.

Targeting men and religious leaders

These practices are closely linked to the rest of girls’ lives and opportunities. Breaking the cycle of poverty by providing girls with more chances for education, training and employment may well be more important than simply seeking to convince them to avoid harmful practices.

Ethiopian church leaders have a role to play in condemning early child marriages. Reuters/Tiksa Negeri

It is also important to involve men and boys, as fathers, future husbands and leaders. Changing views about girls’ life-chances, education and employment can lead to greater transformations in ideas about desirable marriage partners and the benefits of delaying marriage to increase opportunities.

There is also evidence that convincing customary and religious leaders to denounce the practices and avoid them for their own daughters has an important role in changing trends.

The forthcoming summit is without doubt a step in the right direction. Combined efforts from all stakeholders including government structures and services, international and civil society organisations is crucial. But in the final analysis, the need for change has to be believed in and implemented within communities by the girls, young women and men, and their parents. The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. The images of children in this blog were chosen by The Conversation editors and are not of children involved in Young Lives research. Read the original article.

Click here for our slidehare presentation given at the Ethiopia Girl Summit