It Takes Community Health Workers to End Violence Against Children
Summary of new research findings by World Vision
Violence against children affects an estimated 1.7 billion children every year, and roughly half of all children have experienced some form of emotional, physical or sexual abuse during their childhood. Violence against children in all its forms (physical, sexual and emotional abuse, as well as neglect and exploitation) robs children of their human rights, dignity and future - the opportunity to fulfil their potential. Violence has a negative impact on childhood health and development, and can severely impair a child in adult life, as well.
Recently, there has been increased global interest in strengthening the health sector’s role in ending violence against children and evidence-based strategies have been recommended. These strategies describe approaches n which community health workers (CHWs, defined in Box I) can play a key role through educating parents, promoting caregiver skills, identifying children and families at risk, and providing community-level referrals for child protection interventions.
Given CHWs’ proximity to communities and families, and their widespread distribution in underserved communities, they offer a promising opportunity to scale up interventions to end violence against children globally. The contributions of CHWs have been widely recognised in prior studies for their role within community-based interventions in improving social behaviour for health and nutrition. Yet, of the vast literature on CHWs’ practices, there is scant global research on perceptions and practices of CHWs in preventing violence against children, and in their potential role in reducing it. Furthermore, the voices of CHWs themselves in such policy debates are rarely put forth and heard.
In the 2019 study “Understanding community health workers’ perceptions and practices in preventing, detecting and responding to violence against children”, World Vision interviewed 412 CHWs10 in four countries – Bangladesh, Myanmar, Kenya and Tanzania – regarding their roles in preventing and detecting, as well as responding to all forms of violence including existing support and training, plus barriers and enablers they perceive; 55% of survey participants were female CHWs, 94% literate, with a mean age of 37 years, and an average of 9.5 years of schooling.