Collecting data from minors is subject to legal and ethical regulation to ensure safety of respondents. In observing the International Day of the Girl Child, we share some of the key principles that must be adhered to in research to ensure the safety of minors and particularly the girl child in the process of data collection.

Some of the research projects that require participation of minors as respondents include studies where we seek to understand the knowledge, behavior, attitudes and practices of young people in areas such as education and healthcare. For example, understanding school diet and nutrition and its effects on learners, measuring attendance, identifying barriers and motivators and evaluating learning outcomes in school environments or assessing the impact of different programs on female learners are impactful in informing future forward actions that greatly benefit girls and young women within their local contexts.  Such studies may also be replicated in healthcare, climate-based research, and socio-economic programs that target young people.

In market research, some studies that may involve youth and minors include product tests, perception and feedback on online activities such as games and sports, learning resources, leisure, entertainment and recreational habits both in digital and physical environments as well as studies that target financially inclusive solutions that are personalized for young women and tailored to the diverse contextual realities within the African continent.

Given the broad application of data collection involving minors, it is critical to ensure the right procedures, protocols and principles are applied across the board. Here is a short guide to empower those working with minors and specifically safeguarding for girl child participants who take part in data collection.

  • Children can never give consent… they can only provide assent. Before collecting data from minors, one must know that you can never obtain consent from a minor. Consent to participate in any research activity can only be provided by a parent or legal guardian of the minor.  Parents or legal guardians are key stakeholders to safeguarding minors and therefore should be provided with the opportunity to provide informed consent for children to participate in any research activity.

Keep in mind that this consent is voluntary and consent can be withdrawn at any point that the parent or guardian feels is not in the minor’s best interest. A child’s assent means that they can express their approval or agreement to take part in data collection. While there is value in obtaining a minor’s assent to participate, this does not constitute consent not should it be misconstrued to seem as informed consent.

  • Accompanied interviews and respondent autonomy: It is customary to conduct interviews with minors in the presence of an adult who is responsible for the safety of the child. This could be a teacher, parent, guardian or caregiver. However, given the nature of some studies, a girl child respondent may not be free or comfortable to participate depending on the relationship dynamic between the minor and the accompanying adult.

One of the ways to support respondent autonomy and build trust with accompanying adult is to provide a brief of the research topic, study objectives and type of questions that will be asked to the minor before the start of the data collection process.  Once informed consent has been given (see point above) it is best to have the accompanying adult sit at a distance that provides comfort to the child that their parent or minder is still within reach and yet removed from the space where they can benefit from privacy in their response. This balance is best achieved by having the adult within hearing distance of the child but not within Listening distance of the interview.

There are several other measures that must be taken into account to ensure children particularly girl child respondents are able to fully participate in research. This includes training supervisors and enumerators on the research objectives and protocols even before recruitment takes place and providing female only data collectors for studies that may be particularly sensitive for girl child respondents, but as a general principle, the above two guidelines are a good place to begin in ensuring that every child participant is safe and included in research design and insight outcomes.

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