Monday, 18 January 2021

UN in your language

Data means summaries of thousands of stories

Photo: Karin Beate Nøsterud/

30 January 2014 - Pick a country, any country. What proportion of births is registered, and how many children are granted an official identity and the rights that flow from it – rights to services, protection, and the exercise of citizenship?

How many children die within a year of being born, and how many never live to see their fifth birthday? How long can those who do survive expect to live?

The words “data” or “monitoring”, let alone “statistics” cause excitement in some, and blank stares in others. Thirty years have passed since The State of the World’s Children began to publish tables of standardized global and national statistics aimed at providing a detailed picture of children’s circumstances, the goal being rendering the numbers comprehensible to everyone.

Much has changed in the decades since the first indicators of child well-being were presented. But the basic idea has not: Credible data about children’s situations are critical to the improvement of their lives – and indispensable to realizing the rights of every child.

According to the new UNICEF report, State of the World’s Children 2014 – In Numbers, tremendous progress has been made during the past few decades.

Around 90 million children who would have died if mortality rates had stuck at their 1990 level have, instead, lived past the age of 5. Deaths from measles among children under 5 years of age fell from 482,000 in 2000 to 86,000 in 2012, thanks in large part to immunization coverage, which increased from 16 per cent in 1980 to 84 per cent in 2012. And improvements in nutrition have led to a 37 per cent drop in stunting since 1990.

And there's more good news: primary school enrolment has increased, even in the least developed countries: whereas in 1990 only 53 per cent of children in those countries gained school admission, by 2011 the rate had improved to 81 per cent.

But unfortunately the numbers aren’t all happy. Some 6.6 million children under 5 years of age died in 2012, mostly from preventable causes, their fundamental right to survive and develop unrealized. Fifteen per cent of the world’s children engage in child labour that compromises their right to protection from economic exploitation and infringes on their right to learn and play. Eleven per cent of girls are married before they turn 15, jeopardizing their rights to health, education and protection.

Data, and numbers, often remain just that – rows of numbers, hard to grasp for most. But whether it’s about millions, billions or trillions, behind them you find persons, individuals - and children who go about their lives as best they can.

The importance of monitoring cannot be overstated: It measures the extent to which commitments made on the political stage are honoured in the homes, clinics, schools and streets where children live.

With reliable data, disseminated effectively and used judiciously, monitoring makes it impossible for the denial of rights to go unnoticed.


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