KHF Outreach
Empowering Children through Research
24th November 2010
The King Hussein Foundation's Information and Research Center (IRC) explores
Child Participatory Research in the Arab World

Jubilee School student Esra'a Ghnemat addresses researchers at IRC Conference

Six juniors from the King Hussein Foundation's Jubilee School did their homework before appearing in front of forty Arab researchers this week to explain

why they believe children should be allowed to influence and participate in the conducting of research.

The students presented a video in which they interviewed fellow students about why their voices need to be heard.

"I wanted to tell them to hear children's [voices] more and to consider their opinion because they are the next generation," explained 16-year old Esra'a Ghnemat.

Aseel Ajlouni remarked that researchers need to understand a child's personality in order to fully grasp why he or she acts a certain way.

The 15-year old knows of what she speaks; Ajlouni is about to embark on a graduation research project targeting children between the ages of three and eight in Jordan to determine the impact of nutrition on human brain function. The research will involve interviewing children, a new tactic in this part of the world where adult opinion still holds sway.

Nermeen Murad, director of the King Hussein Foundation's Information and Research Center, wants the IRC to be a catalyst for change. Murad, who is also a board member of Childwatch Research Network International, organized a two-day conference in partnership with Al Quds University to discuss methodologies for child participation in research and the ethics of involving children in research.

"Our overall goal is to create awareness of the need to hear children's voices," explained Murad.

While involving children in research is not a completely new concept in the region, Murad said there's no clear understanding of the methodologies or the ethics involved when employing this type of research.

The biggest challenge, according to Murad, has to do with changing mindsets in a patriarchal society.

"Viewing children as partners," she remarked, "is a new concept in our part of the world."

Murad says while researchers are quite receptive to the idea of participatory research involving children, they're often fearful of parental reaction, especially when it comes to controversial issues.

Murad believes the IRC's approach is 'cutting edge' in that the center is already using creative methodologies involving children.

"We're using collage work with young girls to see how they see themselves within the societal set-up," Murad explained in reference to an IRC research project which examines the role that societal, cultural and tribal norms have on Jordanian legislation regarding the Girl-Child. "We're also doing child-led research on the idea of children’s identity and sense of belonging to the country." The latter is part of a two-year research project on the economic and social manifestations of gender bias against the foreign families of Jordanian women.

Guest lecturer Professor Sheila Greene, Director of the Children's Research Centre at Trinity College in Dublin, points out that there are huge ethical issues involved in this research approach.

"You have to have ethics at the forefront of working with children so that you always protect their interest," explained Greene, "and their interest comes first before the interest of the researcher."

As an example Greene mentions the necessity of obtaining 'informed consent of the child'. In addition she points out the need to tell the child what it means to be involved in a participatory research project, and to provide the child with assurances that he or she will be able to withdraw, as well as protecting the child's anonymity and confidentiality.

Rasha Al Ramahi, who attended the conference on behalf of the Society for protecting family violence victims says while she likes the idea of child participatory research, she thinks it may be a tough sell in Jordan.

"They're going to face a lot of problems within the family itself," said Ramahi. "Maybe the mother will accept the idea, the father will not then you'll make a problem inside the family."

Lecturer Barbara Lill-Rastern, a psychologist from SOS Children Village International, says child participatory research has taken ten years to catch on in Austria and in the other countries in which the NGO operates.

Her advice?

"Be patient and work on the attitudes," said Lill-Rastern, who believes that researchers need to focus on awareness-raising first to help adults conceptualize children in a new way.

She says her organization's first participatory project entitled, "Seeing Beyond Violence," was carried out in four counties worldwide in 2003. The NGO gave a group of nine to 13-year olds cameras and invited them to photograph images of what symbolized the "absence of violence". Afterwards the children discussed, analyzed, and interpreted their own results.

The lesson for the adults?

"Children can describe themselves," said Lill-Rastern who noted that this project marked the first time the NGO saw that children are capable of speaking for themselves and that adults need to listen in order to translate their voices into action.

After two days of discussions, the King Hussein Foundation's Information and Research Center (IRC) and Al Quds University will provide a group of young Arab researchers from Palestine, Yemen, the UAE, Lebanon and Jordan with training on child participatory research methodologies and ethics.

The four day event was supported with seed funding from Childwatch International and donations from Al Hikma Pharmaceuticals and the Sheraton Hotel in Amman.

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