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Last update: Jan 2012

Violence. Child labour. Trafficking. Sexual exploitation. Female genital mutilation/cutting. Child marriage. Millions of children worldwide experience the worst kinds of rights violations. Millions more children, not yet victims, are not adequately protected against them.

UNICEF uses the term “child protection” to refer to preventing and responding to violence, exploitation and abuse of all children in all contexts. This also includes reaching children who are uniquely vulnerable to these threats, such as those living without family care, in the street or in situations of conflict or natural disaster.

A key goal of UNICEF is to ensure that government decisions are influenced by better knowledge and awareness of children’s rights and by improved data and analysis on child protection issues. Children subjected to violence, exploitation and abuse are at increased risk of death, poor physical and mental health, HIV, lack of education and more. Sadly, these violations are widespread, under-recognized and under-reported. Solid data are crucial to break the invisibility and social acceptance of child protection violations, to capture the true scale and extent of these phenomena, and to identify risk and protective factors. Reliable data are also needed to specify priority areas and support government planning and budgeting for effective child protection interventions and services; to inform the development and implementation of policies, legislation and actions for prevention and response; and to ensure a robust and ongoing monitoring process to assess results and impacts, and to address challenges.


Collecting data

UNICEF supports the collection of nationally representative data on child protection through the Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS). Data are collected through specific modules that have been developed by UNICEF in consultation with relevant partners. MICS has developed into one of the world’s largest sources of internationally comparable data on child protection, both in terms of the range of child protection issues covered and the number of countries with available data.


Since violence against children and women often begins in the home, the MICS standard questionnaire includes a module to measure attitudes towards wife-beating. Other modules include birth registration, which recognizes a child’s fundamental right to identity and to have a name and nationality; child labour, which examines the types of work a child does, whether paid or unpaid, and for how many hours; child marriage, which is defined as marriage before the age of 18; children’s living arrangements, which provides estimates of the percentage of children not living with either/both biological parents (including orphans); and female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) among women and their daughters, which allows for a comprehensive picture of the current global prevalence rates as well as a better understanding of women’s attitudes towards the practice. MICS also collects data on child discipline, from non-violent forms of discipline to severe physical means of punishing children, and child disability. Where possible, indicators can be disaggregated by geographic areas, residence (urban, rural), sex, education, age, wealth, ethnicity/religion, marital status and other stratifiers.


While large-scale household surveys are important sources of data on child protection, they are not suitable to monitor the prevalence and incidence of certain particularly sensitive or illegal issues, such as sexual exploitation. Additionally, these data sources do not provide information on children living outside households such as children living or working on the streets and children living in institutions. While these children often represent a minority, their living arrangements may put them at increased risk of exploitation or abuse and are therefore at the core of child protection concerns. Data gained through other means, such as administrative records, qualitative studies and ad-hoc surveys, are necessary to provide relevant information to help contextualize the numbers. Monitoring sensitive child protection issues and collecting data on children living outside households raise serious methodological and ethical challenges. Further research and validation studies are the essential prerequisites to exploring methodologies and data collection instruments to fill these data gaps.

Methodological work

UNICEF has played a key role in the development of new data collection and monitoring tools in the area of child protection. This includes the development of questionnaires, indicators and methods for gathering relevant information and reporting on child protection violations. 

Compiling data

UNICEF maintains global databases for a number of child protection indicators. The main sources of data include nationally representative household surveys, such as MICS, Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS), Reproductive Health Surveys (RHS) and AIDS Indicators Surveys (AIS), as well as vital registration systems. These databases are updated annually through a process that draws on data maintained by UNICEF’s network of field offices. The number of countries with available data on child protection has significantly increased in the past six years. New databases are continually being developed.

Analysing data

UNICEF’s work in the area of data analysis for child protection seeks to highlight trends, emphasize patterns that exist within the data, and suggest how these data can be used to strategically inform programmatic efforts. UNICEF also promotes the advancement of research through the development of joint projects and collaboration with academic institutions and other agencies working at the international and national levels in the area of child protection. Current projects on data analysis at the global level include a statistical report on female genital mutilation/cutting that presents estimates of prevalence levels and investigates the circumstances surrounding the practice; an updated global analysis of child marriage and a more in-depth exploration for a selection of countries; and a new analysis of child labour, particularly the household chores component of the MICS indicator.


Disseminating data

Data collected, compiled and analysed by UNICEF on child protection are disseminated in a variety of ways including through the organization’s two flagship publications, The State of the World’s Children and Progress for Children, and in a number of thematic publications available online in this section of Childinfo. In this section of Childinfo, users can access UNICEF’s key statistical databases on child protection with detailed country-specific information that is used to assess progress and setbacks in implementing international commitments, such as those adopted in the 2002 A World Fit for Children Declaration and Plan of Action. The site contains up-to-date global and regional summary analyses and graphics of key results. MICS modules on child protection can also be found here. Another important tool is the MICS Compiler, which allows users to access data from all MICS surveys and display them in the form of tables, graphs and maps.    



UNICEF, Child Protection from Violence, Exploitation and Abuse: A statistical snapshot, UNICEF, New York, 2011.

UNICEF, ‘Global Monitoring for Child Protection’, brochure, UNICEF, New York.

UNICEF, Progress for Children: A report card on child protection, Report No. 8, UNICEF, New York, 2009.