The pathways between natural disasters and violence against children: a systematic review

Cerna-Turoff, Ilan; Fischer, Hanna-Tina; Mansourian, Hani; Mayhew, Susannah

Natural disasters are increasingly affecting a larger segment of the world’s population. These highly disruptive events have the potential to produce negative changes in social dynamics and the environment which increase violence against children. We do not currently have a comprehensive understanding of how natural disasters lead to violence against children despite the growing threat to human populations and the importance of violence as a public health issue. The mapping of pathways to violence is critical in designing targeted and evidence-based prevention services for children. We systematically reviewed peer-reviewed articles and grey literature to document the pathways between natural disasters and violence against children and to suggest how this information could be used in the design of future programming.

We searched 15 bibliographic databases and six grey literature repositories from the earliest date of publication to May 16, 2018. In addition, we solicited grey literature from humanitarian agencies globally that implement child-focused programming after natural disasters. Peer-reviewed articles and grey literature that presented original quantitative or qualitative evidence on how natural disasters led to violence against children were included. The authors synthesized the evidence narratively and used thematic analysis with a constant comparative method to articulate pathways to violence.

We identified 6276 unduplicated publications. Nine peer-reviewed articles and 17 grey literature publications met the inclusion criteria. The literature outlined five pathways between natural disasters and violence, including: (i) environmentally induced changes in supervision, accompaniment, and child separation; (ii) transgression of social norms in post-disaster behavior; (iii) economic stress; (iv) negative coping with stress; and (v) insecure shelter and living conditions.

Service providers would benefit from systematic documentation to a high-quality standard of all possible pathways to violence in tailoring programming after natural disasters. The identified pathways in this review provide a foundation for designing targeted prevention services. In addition, the positive coping strategies within certain affected families and communities can be leveraged in implementing strength-based approaches to violence prevention.


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BMC Public Health

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December 20, 2022


Children, Violence, Child protection, Natural disaster, Humanitarian crisis, Emergency