Violence Against Children Surveys (VACS): towards a global surveillance system

This briefing paper describes the contribution Violence Against Children and Youth Surveys (VACS) have made to the global understanding of violence against children and examples of how the surveys can be positioned to become a global surveillance system to track and monitor the burden of violence against children.

Read the full Violence Against Children Surveys (VACS): Towards a global surveillance system report, which provides information about the history, implementation, ethical protections, utility, results, limitations, and future directions of the Violence Against Children Surveys (VACS) work.

Injury prevention bmj journal

CDC research brief: The value of accurate, timely data on the burden of violence against children and youth

Violence against children is a serious problem and increasingly a global public health, human rights, and development priority. Although violence against children is common around the globe, few countries have population-level data on the prevalence of violence. The Violence Against Children and Youth Surveys (VACS) provide a platform and resource for countries to measure the burden of violence and direct program and policy efforts to address it. VACS are national, household surveys designed to capture the magnitude and prevalence of violence against children in a given country. The surveys collect information on sexual, emotional, and physical violence, the perpetrators, and circumstances, such as time of day and location. The surveys also include information about health status, risk behaviors, and other factors.

This paper describes the contribution VACS have made to the global understanding of violence against children and examples of how the surveys can be positioned to become a global surveillance system to track and monitor the burden of violence against children. The VACS present an opportunity for global investment in the surveillance of violence against children and the commitment to responding to these data with evidence-based prevention and response programs and policies.

Key points from the report

There are multiple unique and innovative contributions of VACS that position it to fill an existing gap in violence surveillance:

  • In each country VACS has been administered, it has provided national baseline data on violence against children.
  • Due to the cross-cutting nature of violence against children, each country forms a multi-sectoral steering committee or task force to oversee and guide the process from survey planning through the design of data-driven policy and programmatic response.
  • VACS is only implemented in countries where high-level governmental leadership commits to using their data to inform program and policy actions to prevent and respond to violence.
  • VACS is the only national household survey that systematically collects population-level data from girls and boys aged 13–24 years on exposures to physical, sexual and emotional violence within the past 12 months and lifetime.

VACS presents an opportunity to develop a global surveillance system for childhood violence, as a result of several unique features and components of the VACS and its approach.

  • Comprehensive, novel indicators from unique populations. The information collected on violence via VACS represents novel and comprehensive data from unique study populations for countries participating in VACS. VACS data permit
    novel analyses of childhood violence.
  • High response rates. Notably high response rates have been achieved through VACS; overall response rates are greater
    than 80% in all countries with published results and similarly high rates achieved for male and female participants.
  • High disclosure rates. Beyond excellent response rates, VACS also achieves high levels of disclosure of violence. This is
    critical given the sensitive nature of the questions. For example, in most of the countries with published reports, more
    than one in five women disclosed childhood sexual violence. Interviews are administered by highly trained interviewers
    of the same sex as the respondent, which may contribute to high levels of disclosure.
  • Global coverage. VACS has been conducted in many countries, and has yielded valuable, context-specific data in each country that has helped inform program and response efforts.

Responding to VACS data

Government commitment to respond to VACS data is a key component of the VACS planning process. VACS findings are the basis for national governments and civil society to make evidence-informed coordinated policy and program changes, including legal and policy reform, improved services for children who have experienced violence, and prevention programs. Although VACS in itself is not a surveillance system, because it only collects data from a single point in time, it is well poised for use in surveillance by repeating the survey at regular intervals.

The data from each VACS completed continue to demonstrate the urgency for a global response to the violence inflicted upon children worldwide. The global investment in the surveillance of violence against children through VACS and the commitment to respond to these data with evidence-based programs and policies is necessary to begin addressing this critical public health issue. A surveillance system to facilitate this effort is overdue; expanding VACS from a ‘single point in time’ survey to one that is used as the basis of periodic surveillance or contributes to an existing surveillance system can bridge this gap.