February 6 2017

Why data matter

Calling for data that count all children

Sustainable development must include all children. To ensure that vulnerable children do not remain invisible and have the equal opportunity to build sustainable futures, official data have to count all children. Without reliable and detailed data, children without parental care and children living outside of households risk missing out on the Sustainable Development Agenda.


Following the first UN World Data Forum, held recently in South Africa, Claudia Arisi, SOS Children’s Villages International Advocacy Advisor, and Sofía García García, SOS Children’s Villages Representative to the United Nations in New York, explain the importance of data to ensure the rights of all children.

How can data improve children’s lives?

Data are more than numbers. Data provide vital information about people’s needs, which is essential to plan public policies and ensure a fair and effective distribution of resources. Currently, there are large data gaps on children. For example, there are no precise figures on how many need protection and care, and what quality of care they are receiving. This applies to developed and developing countries alike.

If States have more and reliable data on vulnerable children whose family networks are frail or have broken down – such as children without parental care – they could make better informed decisions, plan targeted interventions that address the specific needs of these children, and sustain their development into strong adults.

Why are some children not counted or their needs unreported?

In many countries, statistical and child protection information systems are weak. Because data are mostly collected through household surveys, children who do not live in a household fall off the radar. When data are available, it may be not gathered centrally or data is not presented in a coordinated manner so it can actually inform fact-based policy-making.

But there is another reason why certain groups of people are not reflected in data: their life conditions simply remain unacknowledged and neglected. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are an opportunity to trigger a real data revolution for sustainable development. To do this, we need to proactively search and identify those who are left behind because they remain unseen, such as many children who cannot grow with their own family.

What can be done to ensure that the SDGs include the rights of all children?

We must re-think data from a perspective of quality and inclusion; otherwise data will remain incomplete, uninformative and unfair to the groups of children that tend to be left behind by society.

We need certain political and technical measures that build on each other. On a political level, States should establish national ‘Leave No One Behind’ multi-stakeholder platforms, to foster dialogue and collaboration on ways to improve data collection and analysis.

National statistical offices should be at the forefront of engaging civil society to map existing data sets that allow for comparison of different population groups, and assess inequality. This would foster cooperation in the production of data and statistics to monitor SDG progress for all. Additionally, it takes adequate financial investment to increase the reach of data and information systems and to turn words into actions.

From a technical perspective, one way to make immediate improvements is to make better use of the data already available. For us, an important step would be to disaggregate data on children by their care status and living arrangements. Moreover, household surveys need to be improved and complemented by new methodologies of data collection.

What is the significance of the UN World Data Forum?

The first UN World Data Forum (WDF) in Cape Town, South Africa, in January was a unique opportunity to meet with a very diverse and expert audience to discuss how data can contribute to the SDGs. The forum comes at a crucial time, when 193 governments are mobilising to implement the SDGs for all people, as part of the global 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Claudia Arisi and Sofía García García called for inclusion of all children in SDG progress monitoring at the UN World Data Forum. Photo: SOS Archives

For us, the WDF was an important opportunity to raise awareness on the large data gaps on children, especially the most at-risk and harder to reach. Additionally, the Global Action Plan on Sustainable Development Data was launched at the WDF. It will serve as a roadmap for governments to improve data that can contribute to a better future for all.

Civil society has an important role to play in ensuring that States collect and publish data disaggregated by grounds of discrimination like age, sex and care status. Cooperation across different sectors of society will be essential to win the data challenge. 

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