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20 September 2022

The MICS Programme tests new approaches to measure adolescent mental health, children’s time use and gender norms.

MICS recently conducted a field test of new tools to measure adolescent mental health, children’s time use and gender norms regarding the allocation of time to unpaid work. The MICS programme’s methodological work aims at developing and assessing the readiness of new household survey instruments before making them available for use by National Statistical Offices and government agencies.

The field test took place in the Mutare district of Eastern Zimbabwe and was implemented in close collaboration with Zimbabwe’s National Statistics Agency (ZimStat) and UNICEF Zimbabwe. A team of 10 interviewers was trained and deployed to interview households with adolescents aged between 15 and 19 years. The team interviewed 250 adolescents and over 100 caregivers across urban, peri-urban and rural locations. In addition, cognitive interviews were administered to a subset of respondents following the main interview to assess whether select questions were understood as intended.

Three survey modules were tested in the exercise, each measuring a different topic relevant to adolescents’ experiences. The modules were at different stages of development prior to the MICS field test and the objectives of the testing for each of the modules in Zimbabwe varied accordingly.



Adolescent mental health

UNICEF is leading the development of a household survey instrument to measure adolescent mental health with the support of a group of experts. The tool measures symptoms of anxiety and depression, suicidal thoughts and attempt, as well as functional limitations and care seeking behavior related to mental health. The anxiety and depression modules are based on screening tools and scales widely used.

Prior to the MICS field test in Zimbabwe, the instrument underwent a rigorous process of cultural adaptation and clinical validation involving qualitative and quantitative testing in Belize, Kenya, Nepal and South Africa. The instrument was tested in a household setting for the first time in Zimbabwe. Questions were further refined and new questions on physical activity, body image and substance use were added to understand potential risk factors associated with adolescent mental health. A key objective of the field test was to pilot a simplified yet rigorous approach to cross-cultural adaptation that would be feasible to integrate in a MICS survey process. This included focus group discussions with adolescents and an expert review of key terms to make sure questions were easy to understand, relevant, acceptable and free of potentially stigmatizing language. MICS also piloted the deployment of a referral protocol to identify respondents in need of psychosocial support and refer them to local service providers during fieldwork.



Children’s time use

UNICEF is developing a children’s time use survey module to capture the type and duration of activities children engage in. This information can shed light on how patterns of time use are associated with outcomes in children’s well-being. 

MICS first experimented with two approaches to measuring children’s time use in 2017 in Malawi. The first approach tested stylized questions, which provide information on the aggregated duration of a select set of activities, using a 24-hour recall period. The second approach also used stylized questions but integrated these into the standard MICS Child Labour module and used a 1-week recall period. Following the Malawi experience, the decision was taken to test a diary approach, which captures information on the duration, the timing, the sequence and the occurrence of specific activities, with a 24-hour reference period, in Belize in 2019. The activity categories developed by the United Nations Statistical Division for time use surveys (ICATUS 2016) were adopted and adjusted to be more suitable to children.

The approaches tested in Malawi and Belize were administered to mothers of children aged between 5 and 17 years (or their primary caregivers if the mother did not live in the household). In order to understand if the reporting of older adolescents’ time use by proxy-respondents differs from their own self-report (and how) MICS decided to further test the diary approach in Zimbabwe by administering it to adolescents aged 15 to 17 years and their mothers (or caregivers). In addition, the ICATUS 2016 activity categories were further revised to better reflect the online engagement of older children and adolescents in learning, social and leisure activities.



Gender norms and unpaid work

UNICEF is developing a standardized set of questions and indicators for inclusion in household surveys that would enable the collection and analysis of data on gender norms related to children’s engagement in unpaid work. This information will help policymakers and practitioners better understand how gender norms influence boys’ and girls’ engagement in unpaid domestic and care work, and how the unequal distribution of unpaid work among them affects their opportunities and wellbeing. Prior to the field test, UNICEF conducted a review of published and grey literature on social and gender norms theory, with a focus on unpaid domestic and care work, and a data mapping of existing norms and norms-related measures, which informed the development of the survey module. The questions were field tested for the first time in Zimbabwe. Among other issues, respondents were asked about their own attitudes, their perceptions of what others expected of them, and what they thought their peers and members of their communities do. A list experiment was also implemented to assess the extent to which social desirability bias may have influenced respondents’ responses.