This report presents the findings from an 18 month participatory research project in Nepal from 2012 to 2013 that looked at what can be learned from the life experience of children, adults, families and communities and programme practice that contributes to an understanding of resilience in the prevention of and recovery from child sexual abuse and exploitation.
Although there is no recognised definition of resilience, in the main, it is seen as the capacity to withstand considerable hardships, to bounce back in the face of great adversity, and to go on to live relatively normal lives (Gilgun, 1996) (Silva, 1996) (Turner et al., 1993) (Vanistendael, 1995).
In studying the resilience of children, two key methods were employed consisting of life story interviews and focus group discussions. Both methods are participatory in nature and allow children’s own experience to be central to the analysis. In addition, the study was also participatory in that young people, as researchers and advisors were involved in all aspects of the research, from data collection, analysis and validation to dissemination of the findings.
Life story interviews were held with 47 children and focus group discussions with 70 children, involving a total of 117 children as research participants. All child participants were child domestic workers, in that they were currently or previously in paid or unpaid to work in households other than their own – carrying out tasks such as cleaning, ironing, cooking, gardening, collecting water, looking after other children and caring for the elderly. Child domestic workers were chosen as the sample group for this study because of identified links between the seclusion and dependency on employers of domestic workers that makes these children particularly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, notably sexual abuse.
From an analysis of the wellbeing of children interviewed in this research it can be concluded that, despite the fact that the vast majority of children had experienced some form of abuse in their lives, equally, a large majority of children in this study had positive outcomes and were doing well. Assessments highlighted two key indicators of wellbeing: firstly children’s ability to reduce their feelings of fear, anxiety and anger and, secondly, children’s progress in their studies (or in some cases simply their regular attendance of school).
The findings provide a rich description of the lives of child domestic workers in Nepal from which five themes were generated that highlight children’s resilience.
Theme 1: Someone to confide in
Children in this study showed a strong urge to share their problems with a ‘confidante’; to offload their pain, to gain support and to help them develop a strategy to protect themselves from further harm. Children were particularly conscious of the need to confide in someone when it came to sexual abuse, consequently they made careful assessment of potential confidantes and the consequences of sharing a problem that could have a serious negative impact on their lives.
Theme 2: Dawn after Dusk: hope enables children to endure hardship
Child domestic workers were found enduring hardship at their workplace in the hope of a better future, both for themselves and for their family. Children demonstrated that they were able to change their understanding of the difficulties they faced and the unlikelihood of a positive outcome, taking charge of their destiny by striving for their goals.
Theme 3: Positive attitude and self confidence
Many children in this research displayed positive attitudes to themselves, to domestic work in general, and to the particular difficulties they faced. This positive outlook gave children confidence that they could influence or change the situations in which they found themselves.
Theme 4: Ability to assess risk and develop a protection strategy
Many children in this study had the ability to assess situations where they were at risk of abuse or harm and to develop strategies to protect themselves and ensure their safety. Children demonstrated a keen ability to assess and navigate the power differentials between abuser and victim, domestic worker and employer.
Theme 5: Participation in festivals enables reconciliation
Children’s participation in cultural festivals can be a time of opportunity for child domestic workers; a moment of respite from the daily drudge of domestic work and a time when they can make the best of their situation. It also presents an opportunity for children to reconcile their difficulties with their employers, and has the potential to be a pivotal moment in their lives.
From the five themes three key conclusions have been drawn from this research, firstly that the five themes are interlinked, with many of the same resilience factors highlighted in each theme. Secondly, that despite an experience characterised by isolation, child domestic workers find support both externally from the limited number of people they are in touch with, and internally through their own resourcefulness. The third conclusion is that resilience factors were found to have a cause and effect relationship with each other, the existence of one resilience factor causing other factors to develop.