School children kenya
Safe Blog

Youth voices are critical in new evidence on the epidemiology of violence, and how we can prevent it

20th May 2024


  • Jodie
    Jodie Pearlman

    Research Fellow & PhD Candidate, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

  • Amiya Bhatia
    Amiya Bhatia

    Associate Professor, Department of Social Policy and Intervention, University of Oxford

  • Constanza Ginestra headshot
    Constanza Ginestra

    Research and Policy Specialist,
    Together for Girls

  • charles
    Dr. Charles Opondo

    Associate Professor of Medical Statistics and Co-Director of the Clinical Trials Unit, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

  • karen
    Prof Karen Devries

    Epidemiologist, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

  • Begoña Fernandez
    Begoña Fernandez

    Director of Data and Evidence,
    Together for Girls

  • Anaïs Colin
    Anaïs Colin

    Student, Harvard University

Most of us will never meet the 111,000 young people whose voices and experiences are documented in the Violence Against Children and Youth Surveys (VACS), but as researchers and practitioners using quantitative data to guide violence policy and prevention, it is our responsibility to listen to the experiences of young people reflected in this data.

The Data to Action course developed and delivered by Together for Girls and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) aimed to grow the community of researchers using and generating data on violence to inform program and policy action.

Over a period of 7 months, it brought together early-career researchers to learn how to analyse VACS data in their own countries and contexts and interpret findings to support research, programming and policy stakeholders in the violence against children space.

Throughout the course, participants developed their own research projects drawing on their expertise, skills and interests, as well as key knowledge and evidence gaps they identified in their own institutions and contexts.

At the end of the course, all course participants presented their findings to a global community of violence researchers and stakeholders from 33 countries. These are the lessons and reflections they took from the course.

Consequences of violence infographic
Image: The consequences of violence can last a lifetime

The links between adolescents experiences of violence and their health outcomes in Kenya

Daisy Chelangat, Research Associate at Aga Khan University

I came to the course wanting to explore the links between violence and health outcomes among adolescents. I knew that my position as a Research Associate at Aga Khan University provided me with a great opportunity to share my findings with other university colleagues who could use the data to inform and develop interventions aimed at improving health outcomes in adolescents.

I also hoped to use the VACS course as a launch point to engage more deeply with stakeholders – both policymakers and community members – on violence prevention.


“My major focus is being able to reach communities, to eventually have the chance to talk and engage with parents to change their mind on violence. I wanted to see if we could generate new evidence that could allow me to reach out to the community and inform interventions to prevent violence in schools.”

My course project explored the mental health impacts of emotional violence against adolescents in Kenya. I analysed the Kenya 2019 VACS data and found that adolescents who are out of school are more vulnerable to emotional violence from parents, intimate partners and peers on social media. I also found that young women and adolescents out of school who experience violence are particularly vulnerable to poor mental health.

My goal is to pursue a PhD in data science, and I’m currently exploring how to use VACS data for my thesis.

Kenya vacs 2020

Using quantitative data to improve population health and eliminate health inequalities in Colombia

Beatriz Caicedo Velázquez, Professor and Researcher at University of Antioquia

I joined the VACS course with an interest in using quantitative data to understand how to modify contextual factors to improve population health and eliminate health inequalities. At the University of Antioquia, we have a strong focus on ensuring research is translated into policy. We work closely with the Antioquian Secretary of Health, so I hope that the research project I developed as part of the VACS course can support and strengthen the work being done by the department.

Beatriz Caicedo Velásquez
Beatriz Caicedo Velásquez, Professor-Researcher, University of Antioquia, Colombia.

“Part of what the University wants to do is make sure that research doesn’t stay in articles or conferences, but really gets to where decisions are made.”

During the course, I used the Colombia 2018 VACS data to conduct a project titled “Individual, family and geographical conditions associated with violence against children, adolescents and youth: Evidence from Colombia”.

I found that around half of the young people in the Colombia VACS had experienced at least one form of violence in their lifetime, with substantial variation at the sub-national level. These results highlight the importance of individual, family and geographical contextual characteristics in predicting the risk of experiencing violence among children.

I have already used what I learnt in the course as doctoral student’s mentor looking at bullying and health outcomes in Colombia.

Colombia VACS Report cover

Shifting norms around violence in and around schools in Kenya

Anne Ngunjiri, Senior Technical Advisor at LVCT Health

I joined the course with over seven years of experience working on issues related to violence against children in Kenya, and was part of the team that implemented the Kenya 2019 VACS. By joining this course, I was hoping to generate evidence that can challenge the assumptions of perpetrators of violence, and start to shift norms around violence against children in schools.

Anne Ngunjiri
Anne Ngunjiri, Senior Technical Advisor, GBV Program, LVCT Health Kenya.

“I have always worked to ensure the research and policy are informed by each other. To be able to analyse VACS data and [say] that I was able to generate new evidence based on that…Then I'd actually be able to go back to the policy table and share with them what we have learned about children’s experiences in their socialisation spaces.”

I used the Kenya VACS data to explore links between peer physical violence and psychological distress in Kenyan school-age adolescents. My results showed gendered patterns in the prevalence of peer violence, and that young people who experienced peer physical violence were over twice more likely to report mental distress compared to young people who did not experience this type of violence.

I believe that this work and this course can bring us one step closer to improving the capacity of stakeholders to understand and leverage data on violence for actionable policy proposals.

Generating evidence on protective factors against mental health issues resulting from violence in childhood in Namibia

Shelene Gentz, Clinical Psychologist and Senior Lecturer at the University of Namibia

My participation in the course was motivated by my efforts to advance the state of mental healthcare across my home country of Namibia. I was particularly interested in using the Namibia 2019 VACS data to understand the protective factors that shield certain children from the consequences of violence, particularly suicidal ideation and suicide attempts.

Shelene Gentz
Shelene Gentz, Senior Lecturer, Human Science, University of Namibia.

“Not all children who have experienced an adverse event go on to develop negative outcomes. There are so many that thrive and grow from it. It’s up to us to find the right conditions to nurture and foster that growth.”

My research project explored whether exposure to caregiver and peer violence was related to mental health outcomes among children in Namibia. I found that approximately one in five children in the 2019 Namibia VACS reported experiencing physical or emotional violence by a caregiver, and half reported physical or emotional violence by a peer, both of which increase the risk of experiencing mental distress and suicidal ideation.

As a firm believer in the importance of researchers sharing their work with policymakers and service providers, I intend to bring my findings to the Ministry of Health and Social Services in Namibia to contribute to improving adolescents’ mental health outcomes across the country.

Namibia VACS report

The association between socioeconomic status and the experience of physical violence among adolescents in Côte d’Ivoire

Bangaman Akani, Assistant Professor at the University of Felix Hophouet Boigny

As an Assistant Professor at the University of Felix Hophouet Boigny I have contributed to a range of projects to promote child health, including advocating for the addition of a fourth dose of the Hepatitis B vaccine at birth in Côte d’Ivoire.

Bangaman Akani, PhD, Dept Public Health, University of Felix, Côte d'Ivoire.

"I saw this course as an opportunity to acquire the skills to fill a gap I had noticed when first working with VACS data: the lack of a wealth index. My project used data from the Côte d’Ivoire 2019 VACS and examined the association between socioeconomic status and the experience of physical violence among adolescents. I found substantial gender inequalities in the prevalence of physical violence, with employment and socioeconomic status strongly associated with the risk of physical violence."

Alongside a fellow course participant from Côte d’Ivoire, Franck Migone, I have been inspired to create a committee devoted to addressing violence against children in Côte d’Ivoire. Together, we aim to train researchers and physicians to use VACS data to reduce violence against children across the country, advocating for increased efforts by the government to prevent violence against children and bridging the gap between current policies and practice.

Cote d'Ivoire rapport VACS 2020

Understanding he relationship between household violence and poverty in Côte d’Ivoire

Franck Migone, Statistician and Economist at Institut National de la Statistique Côte d'Ivoire

I joined the VACS course to better understand the relationship between household violence and poverty in my home country of Côte d’Ivoire. My initial interest in violence research was prompted by my participation in creating a machine learning model to predict the probability of experiencing intimate partner violence. Inspired by this project, my recent work aims to use quasi-experimental approaches to identify the impacts of violence against children.


“By using the rich VACS data to create new and innovative evidence we can bring more interesting recommendations to the government about the impact of violence on society at large”.

Following the VACS course, I plan to encourage his team of researchers and students to use VACS data to produce quantitative insights on child violence in Côte d’Ivoire.

With gratitude to all course participants for sharing their experiences and to Nico Dominguez Carrero, Roz Pen, and Together for Girls colleagues for their support in conceptualising the blog.