Preventing violence against children and promoting safe environments

Research led by Fry ​and Maternowska in partnership with UN agencies and national partners has identified the common global drivers of violence against children, investigated its long-term effects and evaluated the effectiveness of school-based interventions for its prevention.

Photo of three happy children

Research hub

Advanced Quantitative Research in Education

Children and Young People

Research experts

Dr Deborah Fry

Professor Gillean McCluskey

Professor Lani Florian

Professor Catherine Maternowska

Tabitha Casey

What was the problem?

Every year, over 1 billion children experience violence. Violence against children undermines every other investment in children and compromises children’s health, education and future opportunities, with negative lifelong impact and intergenerational consequences. The challenge is social, economic and political – and it is urgent.

What did we do?

The End Violence Lab works with international agencies, regional bodies and national and local leaders to co-design solutions-oriented processes for change in the field of violence prevention. We support senior-level influencers in government, national universities and civil society organisations to plan for the implementation and eventual scale-up of violence prevention interventions.

As its Co-Director, Dr Debi Fry has led research that is the first to find that all types of violence in childhood have a negative impact on educational outcomes for boys and girls globally as well as their subsequent wage earnings and other outcomes. Her research has identified the common drivers – as well as risk and protective factors – of violence against children. It has also contributed to the evidence base that violence against children in schools is preventable through school-based intervention.

Study 1: Global Meta-Analysis of Violence in Childhood on Education Outcomes

This study, led by Fry, employed a global systematic review and double meta-analysis methodology – one of the “gold standard” rigorous approaches for synthesising quantitative data from multiple studies – of 110 studies from 21 countries. Findings showed, for the first time globally, that all types of violence negatively affect educational outcomes such as children’s grades, test scores and likelihood of graduating from school. The findings also disaggregated how different types of violence affect boys’ and girls’ educational outcomes differently.

Study 2: The Multi-Country Study on Drivers of Violence Affecting Children

Co-led by Fry in partnership with UNICEF Office of Research, Innocenti (Dr Catherine Maternowska who is now Professor Violence Prevention for Young People at the University of Edinburgh and co-founder of the End Violence Lab), this research analysed over 1,260 primary studies and 44 national-level datasets on violence to map existing prevention interventions in 22 developing countries across the world in partnership with UNICEF country offices, the Young Lives longitudinal study programme countries in partnership with Oxford University, government and national universities.

This study significantly added to the global evidence base by using robust data to show how risk and protective factors are intimately connected to the drivers of violence across countries. The study identified 16 risk and protective factors at the individual, interpersonal and community levels and seven drivers of violence at the structural and institutional levels:

  • Poverty
  • Gender inequality
  • Migration
  • Rapid societal transformation
  • Weak child protection systems
  • Weak legal structures
  • Poor school governance

As a result of the study, a new, integrated, child-centred, socio-ecological framework to understand why violence against children happens was developed.

Study 3: Burden of Violence against Children in the Asia Pacific Region

Co-led by Fry, this collaborative project with UNICEF’s Asia-Pacific Regional Office and China Agricultural University was the first education study to use population-attributable fractions and other epidemiological methods from medical research such the Global Burden of Disease Study, to estimate the economic impact of violence against children.

With data from 35 countries in the Asia Pacific region, the study found that countries lose between 2% to 6% of their GDP annually due to the impact of violence against children on individuals, families and communities.

Study 4: Analysis of the Impact of Violence in Childhood on Adult Wages

Co-led by Fry with colleagues from the University of Cape Town and Georgia State University, this is the first study globally to use longitudinal data to understand the relationship between violence in childhood and young adults’ wages. Using data from the Cape Area Panel Study in South Africa, the researchers applied Heckman selection models and found that, on average, any experience of physical or emotional abuse during childhood is associated with a later 12% loss of young adults’ wages.

Wage loss due to the experience of childhood maltreatment is larger for females than males. These results emphasise the importance of prioritising investments in prevention and intervention programmes, including in schools, to reduce the prevalence of child maltreatment and to help victims better overcome the long-term negative effects.

Study 5: Testing of the Safe Schools for Teens Programme in the Philippines

Co-led by Fry with colleagues from the University of the Philippines and Anteneo University, this study aimed to measure changes in knowledge, attitudes and behaviours of teachers and pupils on child sexual abuse (CSA) based on the Safe Schools for Teens intervention with 237 teachers and 1,458 Grade 7 students from 2 public high schools in metro Manila:

  • Phase 1 involved measuring an in-service training curriculum for all teachers on recognising, recording, reporting, and referral (4Rs) of CSA and establishing a referral and support system.
  • Phase 2 involved implementing and evaluating eight student prevention modules through the Health and Values Education subjects of the curriculum.

Training of teachers resulted in an increase in confidence for identifying CSA and a decrease in apprehension of reporting CSA. The Safe Schools intervention significantly improved student’s self-reported knowledge on abuse, dating violence and how to help friends as well as adolescents’ impulse control and emotional clarity which led to significant decreases pre- and post-intervention in school-based violence.

What happened next?

The End Violence Lab has pioneered explicit ways of working with external partners to maximise impact from research in preventing violence against children. A key element of each study included partnering directly with UN agencies like UNICEF or national and international organisations, with a lead government ministry and a multi-sectoral advisory group drawn from academia, government, civil society organisations and children’s organisations. Joint curation has allowed this body of work to generate global impact in a short timeframe – and to respond to the real world, on-the-ground challenges faced by policymakers and child protection practitioners.

The research has contributed to legislation banning corporal punishment in schools in three countries impacting over 10.3 million children

The finding from the Multi-Country Study that violence in schools, including corporal punishment, has a significant negative impact on learning outcomes, led both the Peruvian National Congress (in 2015) and the Congress of Paraguay (in 2016) to pass laws prohibiting corporal punishment against children in schools. These policy changes effect over 7 million school-aged children in Peru and over 1.4 million children in Paraguay.

Zimbabwe also passed legislation to ban corporal punishment against boys in schools (it was previously banned for girls) with UNICEF confirming that evidence from Multi-Country Study was a critical contribution to the passage of this law in 2018, which has impacted over 1.9 million boys in the country.

The research has directly influenced national plans of action to prevent violence against children and additional legislation in six countries

The Multi-Country Study’s findings have been cited in national action plans and by government leaders launching those plans in Italy, Viet Nam, Zimbabwe, Peru, Eswatini and the Philippines. These strategies have directed and continue to influence government spending for prevention and response services across child protection systems:


Italy’s Vice-Minister for Equal Opportunities stated that findings from the Multi-Country Study fed directly into Italy’s National Plan of Action for Children (2016-2017) and the National Plan to Prevent and Combat the Abuse and Sexual Exploitation of Children 2014-2016.

Viet Nam

Viet Nam’s Minister of the Department of Child Care and Protection from the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs (MOLISA) stated that the research findings led directly to the new Program on Child Protection 2016-2020.

The findings from the Multi-Country Study on the Drivers of Violence led to Viet Nam’s Child Protection Creed, a new sub-law of the Child Protection Law enacting multi sectoral action against violence in Health, Education and Justice...

Minister of the Department of Child Care and Protection, MOLISA, Viet Nam


Zimbabwe’s Minister of the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare (MoPSLSW) stated that the Multi-Country Study findings are influencing current policy dialogues around the new Orphaned and Vulnerable Children II National Plan of Action and the implementation of a national case management system for responding to cases of violence against children. Findings from the Multi-Country study also contributed to improving child protection response systems in Zimbabwe.


In Peru, the Ministry of Children and Vulnerable Populations issued a legislative decree for the protection of children deprived of or at risk of losing parental care (Decreto Legislativo Nº1297) in 2016. An officer from the Ministry said that the Multi-Country Study had helped to develop indicators to identify at-risk children and had provided more information supporting the need for the decree, including the fact that one of the main reasons children are in institutions is because of violence.

Eswatini (formerly Swaziland)

In a public speech in 2017, the Principal Secretary of Swaziland’s Deputy Prime Minister’s Office said the Drivers of Violence Study was influential to the development of the National Strategy to End Violence in Eswatini.

[The study] provided an opportunity for strategic and high-level advocacy for the enactment of the sexual offences and domestic violence bill that has been under discussion for over a decade.

UNICEF Swaziland

The Philippines

The Philippine Plan of Action to End Violence Against Children, PPAEVAC (2017-2022) cites in the plan that the Drivers of Violence affecting Children research was one of two influential studies that influenced the Plan of Action.

The research has directly influenced the creation of safe environments for children beyond school through the development of the safe cities initiatives

An evaluation conducted by UNICEF of the 3rd High-Level Meeting (HLM) for Children’s Rights directly cites Fry’s research as contributing to citywide safe environment interventions in the Asia-Pacific region.

Through the presentation of quality research papers and insightful panel discussions that fostered South-South learning, senior government ministers and officials from nearly 30 countries showed how child-sensitive investments can deliver significant returns – for children, for communities, and for nations.

UNICEF evaluation of the 3rd High-Level Meeting (HLM) for Children’s Rights

Furthermore, the evaluation of the Safe Schools intervention in two schools has contributed to its adoption by the Mayor of Valenzuela City in the Philippines as an evidence-based intervention for his safe cities initiative, as highlighted in his application to becoming the first Pathfinding City for ending violence against children through the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children.

Our recent Safe Schools project, [is] an initiative using school-based mindfulness interventions for students and specific teacher training in relation to reducing violence against children. Valenzuela is committed to working with local researchers and implementers to scale up this initiative and, importantly, contribute to the international Safe to Learn Campaign.

The Mayor of Valenzuela City, the Philippines

Finally, as a result of this strong body of research, University of Edinburgh has recently developed a new global data institute for child safety through a large research grant and endowment from the Human Dignity Foundation. The institute, led by Paul Stanfield as Executive Director and Dr. Debi Fry as Director of Data and PI, aims to safeguard children by gathering the most current, reliable and evidence-based data to understand the magnitude and nature of child sexual exploitation and abuse globally. It will use insights from this data to inform policy and drive sustainable and coordinated action to protect children across the world.

The institute is supported by the University of Edinburgh’s scientific expertise, including the End Violence Lab, Moray House School of Education and Sport, Edinburgh Futures Institute, the Data-Driven Innovation Programme and the Global Health Academy.

Related study programmes

Education (MSc)