Adolescent girl blue wall
Safe Blog

Proven: The power of data-driven advocacy to protect children

18th July 2023


With data from 23 countries we've successfully created evidence-based solutions to reduce violence against young girls, including ending child marriage and other harmful norms.

Sexual violence, including GBV in adolescence, is often a hidden form of violence. In my work I use the Violence Against Children and Youth Surveys (VACS) whereby children and youth between 13 to 24 years are surveyed on their experiences of violence in childhood and in the past 12 months.

The VACS is critical in the field of violence prevention as today we have about 1.8 billion youth and adolescents around the world. This is the highest ever recorded number of adolescents. Of this number:

  • 125 million adolescents live in fragile contexts, including areas affected by armed conflicts.
  • Every 7 minutes an adolescent boy or girl is killed by an act of violence and violence is often perpetrated by a person who is close to the child's environment.
  • Over 130 million adolescents aged 13 to 15 have been bullied at school and emotional violence as a form of violence as well.
  • 50 million adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 have experienced forced sex in their lifetime
  • 1 in 4 girls worldwide is married before age 18.
Humanitarian VACS

This is not exhaustive but it shows how alarming the prevalence of violence is.

In regards to solutions the VACS are quite powerful because they provide gender disaggregated information at the national level. They allow us to understand how many forms of violence there are, where violence occurs and who perpetrates it.

Today, the VACS have been carried out in 23 countries in the world, providing data of 12% of the world's children, adolescent and youth under the age of 24. VACS allows for a gender dimension, because the data is disaggregated by sex. We are able to ask questions on gender norms and attitudes among children as young as age 13.

What data does the VACS give us on violence?

I'm able to access data on physical violence, on sexual violence, emotional violence, their risk factors and demographics. We ask questions about education: whether respondents are in primary or secondary school, whether they've completed school, and about school absenteeism.

We also gather data about their health outcomes and we have information on mental health as a result of violence victimisation and HIV risk-taking. In some countries we offer HIV testing for boys and girls aged 18 and over.

We also have data on unintended pregnancy as a consequence of sexual violence among 18 to 24 years olds, who experience sexual abuse before age 18.

Vac prevalence icon

Prevalence of sexual, physical and emotional violence

Vac context icon

Context of violence, including location and perpetrator

Vac socioeconomic icon

Demographics, socioeconomic status, education

Vac gender icon

Gender attitudes, including those related to violence

Vac witness icon

Witnessing family and community violence

Vac violence icon

Perpetration of physical and sexual violence

Vac condom icon

Health risk behaviors—including HIV risk behaviors

Vac health icon

Health outcomes—including physical, mental, sexual and reproductive health outcomes (e.g. pregnancy)

Vac disclosure icon

Disclosure, service seeking and utilization after experiencing violence

How do we use these VACS data to prevent violence against girls?

The diagram shows the rates of sexual violence in childhood, disaggregated by gender, among people aged 18 to 24 years old: with this data we can advocate with this data, calling for a focus on a specific form of violence based on the evidence that we provide.

VACS data also provides information on support services. We know victims of sexual violence don't always have the support that they need in terms of health services, social justice, etc. This data is powerful. I can take it on to youth advocates to drive the actions that are needed.

As a consequence of childhood violence young women and girls experience suicidal thoughts.

Even among those who did not experience childhood sexual violence victimisation, we still have a high count of young women who reported suicide thoughts. This is how powerful the data is: acknowledging the vulnerabilities as a result of violence, but that there are also existing vulnerabilities among young women, which need to be addressed.

The impact of the VACS is transformational

A review of the VACS Data to Action process in 20 countries show that those governments integrated VACS results into their broader child-related policies including:

Child safety laws

Improving child safety laws or regulations

in 13 countries

Banning corporal punishment

Banning corporal punishment

in 10 countries

Banning child marriage

Banning child marriage

in 9 countries

Vacs indicators

Including VACS indicators in national statistics

in 5 countries

Initiatives for girls

Launching new initiatives addressing the safety of girls

in 5 countries

Kenya: reducing violence by 50%

In the specific case of Kenya, in the decade between its two VACS of 2010 and 2019, we were able to see a decrease in unattended pregnancy as a consequence of violence, and up to 50% reduction in the prevalence rate of child sexual violence. This is how loud the data can speak, and then I bring this scientific information to youth advocates.

Drawing on secondary analyses of the VACS data we’ve conducted qualitative research to understand stakeholders’ perspectives of violence reduction indicators. Kenya is a very good example of this. We study to understand the changes in policies, interventions, programming, and funding that could have led to the reduction in the violence.

The girls behind the numbers

Sharing evidence-based solutions on prevention, healing injustice is very important. Behind all those statistics, lie stories, people, girls. Young people are at the heart of VACS data. Upholding the value of "nothing about us, without us" we work with local youth agencies to ensure these data are repackaged appropriately and shared with the children and adolescents, to educate them about their rights.

Bridging the gap with youth advocates is the next critical step - highlighting adolescent girls' stories, giving the human context for the change we're trying to make.