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Making invisible children visible

A Chaktomok secondary school student is administered a vaccine during class in Phnom Penh last year
A Chaktomok secondary school student is administered a vaccine during class in Phnom Penh last year. Vireak Mai

Making invisible children visible

Twenty five years ago the world stood together, and agreed, as absolutely essential that greater attention and increased investments be paid to the care and protection of every child in all countries of the world.

They captured this promise in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

On ratifying the Convention in 1992, Cambodia made a strong and dynamic commitment to fulfill the rights of every girl and boy in this country to survive and be healthy, receive a quality education, have a name and an identity and live life without being subjected to violence, abuse and exploitation.

The Convention established minimum standards for Cambodia to achieve. It required that progress be measured and assessed and that data be used to see how far we have come and where we still need to go.

UNICEF’s new global report – State of the World’s Children 2014 in Numbers: Every Child Counts – Revealing disparities, advancing children’s rights – makes a compelling case for data as one of the most powerful tools to drive action, identify gaps, influence decision-makers and target investments and interventions to reach the most vulnerable children.

It highlights the crucial role played by data to inform and direct better investments and interventions for every child. It indicates that data can expose wonderful advances for children and families, but also some striking inequities.

In Cambodia, data from various sources in different areas of the country – showing the differences between girls and boys, between rich and poor – paint a compelling picture for government to regularly review and reflect upon.

As the country crafts and revises joint monitoring indicators and finalises goals in the national strategic development plan – the report is a timely reinforcement of the importance for the government to produce and draw upon truly disaggregated data.

Data have the power to show for example in Cambodia that fewer children die before their fifth birthdays compared to 25 years ago, reducing from 116 to 40 live births per 1,000 between 1990 and 2012.

Data make us recognise that more girls and boys are enrolled in primary education than ever before (98 per cent), putting Cambodia on track to reach its 100 per cent MDG target by 2015.

Data challenge us to look more closely at lower secondary education which has stagnated at 35 per cent since 2007, making it impossible to reach the 75 per cent target by 2015.

In fact, data demonstrate the remarkable progress made by Cambodia over the past two decades, earning it a place among the countries that have achieved the most progress toward the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

While this is good news, data also uncover that progress is uneven on some issues such as nutrition, or access to improved sanitation, between provinces and among populations from the most remote areas.

The gap is also significant between children from the wealthiest and poorest families, leaving too many behind.

Thus, the picture painted by the data help identify trends as well as gaps and slippage. According to the Cambodia Demographic and Health Survey (CDHS) 2010, just over 62 per cent of children under five have their births registered in Cambodia, which is lower than the 2005 figure of 65 per cent.

CDHS 2010 also shows a huge gap in birth registration between rural (60 per cent) and urban (74 per cent), and between the rich (78 per cent) and the poor (48 per cent).

In some provinces, birth registration is two times lower compared to Phnom Penh.

Breaking the data down is increasingly important for policy makers as gaps are often hidden – which means the situation of children is hidden – if we only look at the national averages that may show overall improvement but mask the differences within Cambodia, rendering those children left behind as “invisible”.

Getting data from sub-national levels allows disparities to be revealed so that the barriers children confront are better understood, and initiatives designed and monitored to overcome them.

When the government of Cambodia systematically analyses and uses data to inform social sector budget allocations, then efficiencies will be achieved in effectively tackling the most challenging issues facing children.

Data are making visible the children at greatest risk – those furthest from society’s reach. It is up to decision-makers at all levels, from the national to the grass roots, to make sure that those children – and all children– are granted the opportunity to fully enjoy their rights.

As we mark the 25th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child this year, UNICEF challenges us all to use data and evidence to inspire creative thinking and find innovative solutions to the most pressing issues confronting children.

This anniversary is an urgent reminder of the promises that have yet to be fulfilled – promises that can mean a world of difference for children.

Rana Flowers is the UNICEF Representative in Cambodia.

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