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BMC Public Health. 2018 Sep 27;18(1):1144. doi: 10.1186/s12889-018-6036-y.

Ethical and definitional considerations in research on child sexual violence in India.

Author information

Public Health Foundation of India, Plot No. 47, Sector 44, Institutional Area, Gurugram, 122002, Haryana, India.
Emory University School of Medicine Division of Infectious Diseases and Rollins School of Public Health Department of Global Health, Atlanta, USA.
Public Health Foundation of India, Plot No. 47, Sector 44, Institutional Area, Gurugram, 122002, Haryana, India.
Sambodhi Research and Communications Pvt. Ltd., C-126, Sector- 2, Noida, 201301, Uttar Pradesh, India.
Institute of Sexology and Sexual Medicine, Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin, corporate member of Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, and Berlin Institute of Health, Luisenstraße 57, 10117, Berlin, Germany.
Department of Global Health and Social Medicine, Harvard Medical School, MA, Boston, 02115, USA.



While critically important, child sexual violence (CSV) research poses numerous ethical and safety challenges. Recently, the studies dedicated to understanding and addressing CSV in India have been on the rise, but no published ethical guidelines to direct such research currently exist. To help inform ethical and safety recommendations for the design, conduct, and reporting of future CSV research in India and similar settings, we systematically reviewed the ethics and safety practices reported in recent Indian CSV literature.


A multi-tiered approach was used to understand current ethical practices and gaps: 1) systematic review of Indian CSV studies published over the past decade, 2) examination of existing guidelines on related topics to develop an ethical framework, 3) development of an ethics checklist based on the recommendations from the surveyed guidelines, and 4) application of the checklist to each of the reviewed studies.


Our search yielded 51 eligible studies. From each, data from 6 major thematic areas was extracted: informed consent, confidentiality, selection, training, and protection of study team members, validity of CSV measurement methods, measures to minimize participant harm, and participant compensation. Several gaps were noted: only two-thirds reported approval by ethics committees, obtaining informed consent, and assured participants of confidentiality. Only 25% (13/51) reported assessing ongoing CSV risk and providing necessary support services, none noted whether ongoing CSV was reported to authorities (required by Indian law), and none reported safeguards to protect staff from the effects of conducting CSV research. Further, 43% (22/51) limited surveillance of CSV to one form of abuse and/or used a "loaded term," increasing the potential for underreporting.


Through enhancing understanding of current ethical practices and gaps in CSV research in India, this systematic review informs reporting protocols and future guidelines for CSV research in India and other similar settings.


Child sexual abuse; Child sexual violence; Ethical guidelines; India

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