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A practitioner’s guide to the ethical conduct of research on child marriage in humanitarian settings

Manual and Guideline
Originally published
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This guide is intended to offer practitioners a framework for decision-making considering whether and how to conduct research on child marriage in humanitarian settings. Our focus is on the ethical conduct of research among female and male adolescents and young people (10–24) who are at risk of or have experienced child marriage and are living in challenging, low-resource and often insecure environments. The reasons for this focus are several:

  • While developing studies of child marriage in nine humanitarian settings over several years, we heard frequent and varied questions from study partners, not only about how to address the different ethical issues these studies presented—including their local contextual nuances—but also why informed consent matters, or what an Institutional Review Board (IRB) is and how to work with them. Based on our work on these studies, and our experience working with IRBs and dealing with research ethics in humanitarian settings over time, we hope to provide some guidance on these issues.

  • In our literature review on child marriage research, and drawing upon our more general knowledge of research in humanitarian settings, we found a variety of other documents describing methods and designs for research in humanitarian settings, and resources for activities such as study design, sample size calculations, data analysis and the like.
    We provide links to many of these references and resources in the annexes, but do not otherwise describe them in detail.

  • In developing this guide, we wanted to provide a reasonably short and accessible set of considerations for practitioners as they explore practical questions about research on child marriage in humanitarian settings. Rather than try to provide comprehensive answers to all these questions, we felt that the ethical conduct of human subject research was foundational to the other questions and a necessary starting point for planning and discussions.

This guide is designed to help practitioners make decisions about whether or not human subject research on child marriage is needed in humanitarian settings, and, if it is needed, to help them examine the key concepts, elements and options that should be considered in conducting ethical research. We do not, however, attempt to prescribe concrete answers but rather to set out a framework for informed decision-making within specific contexts.
Furthermore, this guide is not intended as a training manual for practitioners on all aspects of study design, methodology, sampling strategies, instrument development or data analysis. There are a wide variety of well-regarded and detailed handbooks for this, and we provide references to many of them in the annexes.

While our studies were located in a range of geographical locations and humanitarian settings – including refugees, internally displaced people (IDPs) and affected host communities in Bangladesh, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Lebanon, Myanmar, Nepal, northern Iraq and Yemen – we recognize that context is vital and do not suggest that these or any single set of guidelines would apply universally. It is our hope, however, that the approaches set out in the guide, and the examples from field experience, will provide a framework for examining local contexts and for making informed and ethical decisions about the research process.