Indigenous children and young people’s participation in social research raises a range of ethical issues that researchers and participants must grapple with prior to and throughout the research process. These issues include for example, matters to do with protocols for seeking consent, ensuring the research process is culturally respectful and age appropriate, whether the research environment and methods used are child friendly and participants can freely express their views, and ensuring the research endeavour is mutually beneficial.
In Australia, all research involving Indigenous children and young people must be guided by, and adhere to the principles articulated in the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research (‘National Statement’), particularly chapter 4.2 of that Statement. If the research is health related it must comply with the National Health and Medical Research Council’s Values and Ethics: Guidelines for Ethical Conduct in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Research (‘NHMRC Values and Ethics Guidelines’). These documents instruct researchers about how to undertake research in an ethically sound manner, and the principles they contain are fundamental to the manner in which Australian ethics committees assess human research applications. Additionally, the Guidelines for Ethical Research in Australian Indigenous Studies (‘AIATSIS Guidelines’) are particularly instructive and helpful and are becoming more widely used by researchers and ethics committees alike.
There is a gap however, in relation to a comprehensive ethical framework for the involvement of Indigenous children and young people in social research. The National Statement communicates the ethical parameters for the involvement of children in research; and the NHMRC Values and Ethics Guidelines and the AIATSIS Guidelines set out a framework for the involvement of Indigenous people in research. The National Statement specifically refers to research relating to children and young people, but does not mention research relating to Indigenous children and young people; and there is no mention of children or young people in either the NHMRC Values and Ethics Guidelines nor the AIATSIS Guidelines. Thus, in Australia there is no single overarching ethical framework that specifically pertains to the involvement of Indigenous children and young people in research. Read together however, these three documents provide a firm basis upon which to develop and assess the breadth of ethical considerations regarding the involvement of Indigenous children and young people in research, particularly when read in conjunction with the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
There is much to say about the CRC and the UNDRIP in relation to Indigenous children and young people’s participation in research. All research endeavours involving children and young people must uphold the comprehensive body of children’s rights set out in the CRC. These rights are numerous, therefore the task of ensuring compliance with the CRC for child related research may at first instance appear overwhelming for researchers. One vital provision in the CRC is worthy of focused attention. This is the principle articulated in article 12—children’s right to participate in ‘all matters affecting’ them. This is an instructive and appropriate starting point for researchers to base their considerations of how a research process can adhere to children’s rights principles, and in doing so create a child friendly, culturally respectful and age appropriate research environment that reduces risks participants may experience as a result of taking part in the research. Article 12 of the CRC provides that:
States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.
Article 12 aligns well with the ethical considerations specific to children and young people outlined in chapter 4.2 of the National Statement. Article 12 is widely accepted as the ‘lynchpin’ of the CRC, and a foundational right upon which other rights depend and emerge. The Committee responsible for overseeing the global implementation of the CRC makes this clear when they said article 12 ‘establishes not only a right in itself, but should also be considered in the interpretation and implementation of all other rights.’
The language of this provision is strong. Note the use of compelling words such as ‘shall assure’ emphasising children’s right to free expression, and the all-encompassing subject matter to which the provision applies, namely to ‘all matters affecting’ them. These words are emphatic and when they came into force this drastically altered the pre-CRC, and post CRC, rights framework for children globally.
Involving Indigenous children and young people in research processes, particularly by non-Indigenous researchers, must be carried out in accordance with national guidelines, and in a way that upholds participant’s rights as children in accordance with the CRC, as well as their rights as Indigenous peoples in line with the UNDRIP.
In the absence of a comprehensive and unified ethical framework for engaging Indigenous children and young people in research I developed a model and detailed this in my PhD as well as in the Monash University Law Review. This model is a child rights-based approach informed by Indigenous research methodologies that uses child friendly and culturally sensitive research methods: yarning and peer-to-peer video interviewing to engage children and young people in research. This model is based on national ethics guidelines, the provisions set out in the CRC and UNDRIP, and draws on current scholarship in the area. The development of this model contributes to enhancing the ethical framework that regulates and guides the participation of Indigenous children and young people in social research.
Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Guidelines for Ethical Research in Australian Indigenous Studies (2nd revised ed, 2012)
Bessarab, Dawn and Bridget Ng’andu, ‘Yarning About Yarning as a Legitimate Method in Indigenous Research’ (2010) 3(1) Journal of Critical Indigenous Studies 37
Convention on the Rights of the Child opened for signature 20 November 1989, 44 UNTS 25 (entered into force 2 September 1990)
Doel-Mackaway, Holly, ‘“I think it’s Okay … But it’s Racist, it’s Bad Racism”: Aboriginal Children and Young People’s Views about the Intervention’ (2017) 43(1) Monash University Law Review (forthcoming Sept, 2017)
Freeman, Michael, ‘Whither Children: Protection, Participation, Autonomy?’ (1994) 22(3) Manitoba Law Journal 307
National Health and Medical Research Council, the Australian Research Council and the Australian Vice-Chancellors’ Committee, ‘National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research’ (2007, updated December 2013)
National Health and Medical Research Council, Values and Ethics: Guidelines for Ethical Conduct in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Research (Commonwealth of Australia, 2003)
UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No 12, ‘The Right of the Child to be Heard,’ UN Doc CRC/C/GC/12 (1 July 2009)
United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, GA Res 61/295, UN GAOR, 61st sess, 107th plen mtg, Supp No 49, UN Doc A/RES/61/295 (13 September 2007)
This post may be cited as:
Doel-Mackaway H. (2017, 21 September 2017) Ethics and the Participation of Indigenous Children and Young People in Research Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from: https://ahrecs.com/human-research-ethics/ethics-participation-indigenous-children-young-people-research