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Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) researching vulnerable groups have tended to receive limited ethics guidance or oversight, while academia is expected to follow stringent and sometimes seemingly restrictive and bureaucratic processes. The research ethics principles of NGOs and academia are quite similar. However, the frameworks and review processes can differ markedly, creating either strengths, weaknesses, or gaps for both sectors. This divergence is an even greater imperative for sensitive subject matters such as research involving child victims of trafficking or sexual exploitation. Building upon an extensive literature review, this paper undertakes a comparative analysis of the guidelines for ethical research developed by ECPAT International, a global network of non-governmental organizations working to combat the trafficking and sexual exploitation of children, and the Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies, Mahidol University, Thailand. Through interviewing 14 research ethics experts and NGO researchers, the analysis identifies the added benefit of the two quite different ethics frameworks when applying them in the different institutional contexts. The paper concludes by discussing the merits of an overall more comprehensive research ethics system as an alternative, comprehensive research ethics agenda for NGOs.
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