Conducting research with children: capturing the voices of orphaned children heading households in Tanzania.

Author:Kijo-Bisimba, Helen

    This article outlines some practical and ethical challenges in researching with children and especially when a researcher seeks to get the children's consent and views. The experience in a study with Orphaned Children Heading Households (OCHH) (2) in Tanzania is used to portray the issues under discussion. OCHH is a phenomenon that is growing in Sub-Saharan Africa attributable to the HIV/AIDs pandemic, which has affected the demographic patterns by increasing the number of orphans (Otieno, et, al., 2003: 301). This group of children , the OCHH, is increasing and needs to be studied to uncover their realities and situation. Given the tendency in children studies which give preference to adults' assumptions about how children feel and what they need (Ennew, 2003), the study aimed at securing children's voices. This has ignited practical and ethical dilemmas which this article aims to portray. It is asserted that it is not enough to have the idea and provisions to solicit children's voices. This needs to be accompanied by a strategy which charts out a process in research in terms of methods of securing the child's consent and views. The article is informed by the developments in the area of research with children and the specific articles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) which call for the child's rights to expression.

    Researching with children is now informed by the framework provided by the CRC (Ennew, 2000:179). Researchers are obliged under Articles 12 and 13 to solicit the views of children and to let children express themselves in a manner fit for them. The CRC does not expressly mention research. However, the clarification on the right of the child to express her views as provided by General Comment Number 12 of the Committee on the CRC (2009) impliedly includes research when elaborating the requirements in all processes in which a child or children are heard or participate (Part D, Section 134). Specifically section134 (i) of the General Comment mentions 'research' as an example of processes in which a child can exercise the right to express her/his views. This highlights the place of researchers in the implementation of articles 12 and 13 which will be discussed later in the article.

    Generally there has been a development in the area of research with children which calls for the voices of children to be taken into account as a necessary condition, if the children (and therefore the OCHH) are to move from the vulnerable and marginal position they occupy in their society (Hill et al., 2004:84). At the same time, it has been noted that children are sometimes not ready to, or are unable to, participate in conventional research procedures (Aldridge, 2008:261). This then leads to the need to search for more pertinent methods which children can participate effectively, expressing themselves in a way that their voices can be heard. The research being represented here used more than one method to engage the OCHH in the research as a way of leading the children to self expression regarding their situation and how they perceive the multiple levels of structures developed to support and protect them. While the use of multiple methods was useful in hearing the children's voices and minimizing stress and harm on their part, it was also ethically and practically challenging to both the researcher and the OCHH.

    This article intends to share the positive use of multiple methods in the methodology for conducting research with children, as well as teasing out the practical dilemmas in the implementation of the right of a child to self-expression in research. Following this introduction, the article is divided into three subsequent parts. Part Two provides the background to the study by describing the context in which it was undertaken. In this part, Tanzania and the two districts where the field study was undertaken will be described and how the children in the study are situated. Part Three provides, in brief, the theoretical framework of the methodology used, while part Four part covers the experience of researching with children and specifically the OCHH. In this part, the discussion is on the design and how it was negotiated and carried out in practice. In conclusion, the article considers the lessons learned in using a blend of methods in capturing children's opinions and specifically vulnerable children and makes proposals for repositioning methodology in researching such children.


    Tanzania is one of the Sub-Saharan countries that have been affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. This pandemic has not only posed a threat to the economic and social development of the country but it has also worsened the vulnerability of children due to the increase in number of orphaned children. About 2.5 million children have been orphaned by AIDS (De Waal et al., 2004:2) thus leading to a major burden in caring for these children. One of the manifestations of this situation is orphaned children between the age of nine and eighteen years taking care of their households and their siblings. This trend has been further complicated by the profound shift in the socio-economic patterns of the country brought about by the liberalisation and privatisation of the economy throughout the 1980s to date (Rusimbi and Mbilinyi, 2005:287). The majority of Tanzanians, especially in the low and middle-income groups, found themselves out of the labour market and so unable to access quality social services. These realities have led to the inability of extended families to care for orphaned children. This is the setting in which the orphaned children heading households in Tanzania find themselves. The OCHH are found in the communities within the villages and some of them participated in the research under discussion. It has been noted by the CRC Committee that in most societies around the world the issue of children's rights to self expression is still under-implemented (CRC, General Comment Number 12:2009, I:4)). This situation is not different in Tanzanian societies and especially in the villages where the research was undertaken. Children's views are not necessarily considered, and where they are, they might not be used effectively. This was evident during the research with the OCHH as explained under section four. This then leads us to the discussion of the nature of the right to self expression.


    The CRC positions a child as an active subject of rights entitled to full respect and dignity (Hammad, 2004:3). Further, the CRC has set some standards regarding the rights of children to express themselves. This standard can be said to be a guide to researchers since Article 12 (3) and 13 (4) make it mandatory to get children's views relative to their lives (Ennew, 2000:178). The CRC's concern is for the child to be able to assert her or his viewpoint without interference on all matters relevant to her or him. It provides for the child's freedom of expression to include the way a child can seek, receive and impart information and ideas. The trend in researching or gaining information about children has been for adults to think and express thoughts on behalf of children. In some cases, children are invited into adults' meetings or spaces and the children's presence is taken to be the children's participation or expression. In some other scenarios, an adult will enter a child's space and assume to understand the children's expression without letting the children express themselves. The developments in the CRC have increased the demand for children's voices to be heard especially in countries where the Convention has been ratified (Morrow and Richards, 1996:91).The right to children's self expression as provided by the CRC is vital in changing the trend in which rights continue to be ethically grounded in the experiences and perspectives of adults (Wall, 2008:523). What this article suggests is the need to change the way information is solicited from children by adults; in this case adult researchers. Ethically, children have been viewed differently at different times in history. There is a great tendency of regarding children as vulnerable and thus in need of provision and protection (in this case from exploitative researchers) (Morrow and Richards 1996:96) which affect the way children can take part in research or other activities which affect them. Today, the international human rights agreements, and specifically the CRC, provide the opportunity through its language for another way of conceptualizing children. A new possibility is through the 'participation' rights for the children which provide for the child's voice to be heard through self expression. Under this avenue 'a child holds rights which has an influence on her or his life and not derived from her or his vulnerability (CRC General Comment Number 12, Section 18). When a child is given such an opportunity the children's point of view on matters related to their lives can be captured and at the same time the children may enjoy the right to self expression.

    This is therefore the reason for undertaking children's research from the point of view of children as human beings. Children have something to offer irrespective of their age. Adults, and in this context, researchers have to observe and listen to children and take their views seriously. Ethical discussions have been useful in deciding the methodology used for the study with OCHH in Tanzania taking into consideration the developments in the area of children as human beings. The OCHH have not in this case been conceptualised as weak, passive and open to abuse (Morrow and Richards, 1996:97) but as individuals who understand the situation they are in and are the experts on how they perceive such a situation. Methodological debates in this regard give the children space by building on their knowledge (Hinton, 2008:296) while changing the adult-centred understanding of...

To continue reading