“listening to the voice of children and adolescents in el salvador: a qualitative agenda”

RIVERO, LAURA PATRICIA (2018). '“Listening to the voice of children and adolescents in El Salvador: a qualitative agenda”' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Buenos Aires, Argentina 2018.



The following research was carried out by Unicef El Salvador between August 2016 and May 2017 through the application of focus groups.

Its main objective was to support the development of a qualitative research agenda about children and adolescents’ perceptions regarding their country’s development, their role in the Salvadoran society, their dreams and aspirations, and their priorities and values. It also enquires about their meaning of welfare and happiness and how their daily lives are affected by certain limitations.

This research took an important step in promoting children and adolescents’ rights, not only from a normative angle, but from a concrete point of view. In a Latin American context focused on building and advancing citizenship, children’s opinions have not been prioritized. Issues regarding childhood have been described mainly from adults’ perspectives, be it expert opinions, or the opinions of parents or caretakers. 

The investigation is based on the conviction that children must be inquired about the issues that affect them. Children are active subjects of their biography with a transformative capacity of the adverse conditions that surround them. The adult perspective about childhood is imperative, but it must be contrasted and enhanced by the protagonists’ inputs.


        i.            Give childhood a voice by applying one of the fundamental rights of the Convention on the Rights of the Child: the right to express their views and that these views be taken into serious consideration.

      ii.            Generate new data on childhood welfare by suggesting new tools in addition to the traditional quantitative techniques. To generate valuable qualitative research that enlightens quantitative data with less explanatory power.

    iii.            Raise awareness about the opportunity and the need to take children’s opinions into account. Promote social debate about childhood and children’s welfare from different points of views, not only from an adult perspective.

    iv.            Promote an informed public debate that considers children and their opinions when elaborating public policy that affects them directly or indirectly.


This study was carried out through qualitative methods, specifically through the implementation of focus groups. Groups were formed according to age (5 and 6, 7 through 9, 10 through 12, and 13 through 17), gender, place of residence, and socio-economic status (5 geographical zones, 9 communities and 3 urban private schools). A total of 37 focus groups – 32 in communities and 5 in private schools- were performed. According to the principle of data saturation, for example, this number assures sufficient and robust information.

The NGO TECHOS collaborated with the investigation by organizing the logistics of field work. In turn, they were able to strengthen their research abilities for developing similar projects in the future.

During the focus groups with children, we worked with drawing techniques in addition to the traditional discourse technique. We also included prospective tools such as phrase completion or story building. For example, telling stories about “kids who do well/do bad in life”, which tend to facilitate communication through the use of friendlier techniques which children are more familiarized with.


  • Children and adolescents are competent and thorough informants. By giving them a chance to be heard, they are able to provide significant information about their lives, highlighting the aspects that they value and those that are unsettling and which they wish to change. They also provide insight on their expectations and projects. Additionally, they are suitable informers about how they value and perceive the adult world; they clearly enunciate the aspects that they would change in order to improve their lives and their welfare.
  • They claim, to both their parents and caretakers, as well as to social institutions and policy makers, for their different demands to be heard.
    • They feel they have limited spaces to participate in the decisions that concern them, and they are deeply unsatisfied with this fact.
    • They expect concrete changes in the habits of the adults that surround them, regarding, for example, how they are cared for.
  • Some of the deprivations they mention go beyond the economic situation of their households. Instead, they focus on limitations regarding some of the most basic capabilities, such as the lack of play and the freedom to play outside their homes. They denounce feeling imprisoned.
  • Salvadoran children and adolescents lack access to the full exercise of two of Martha Nussbaum’s essential capabilities: the capability to develop a close and respectful link with animals, plants, and the natural world; and the capability of play and being able to laugh and enjoy recreational activities in a free and natural environment.
  • Nonetheless, they feel optimistic and wish to develop vital projects related to study, work, and life in community.
  • Without essential support (in the family, in society, and in public policy), adolescents feel that the obstacles to improve one’s position in the opportunity structure leaves them with little choice but to join illicit and immoral activities (mainly gangs).


It is possible and necessary to design public policy meant to improve the life of children and adolescents. This can be done my attending to their demands and boosting their capability as agents, making them participants through speech and action in the decisions that are made for their benefit.  

scroll to top