Going down the rabbit hole: Creating a UNICEF report

In the Data and Analytics Section of UNICEF, we produce many reports based on the in-depth database we maintain here in HQ. However, in March, we launched a flagship report: Progress for Every Child in the SDG Era. The report looks across all 232 SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) indicators, identifies the 44 that refer directly to children, and tracks their progress towards global targets.

The first rabbit-hole we jumped into while writing the report was the result of one question: how could we translate the vastness of the SDGs and its child-related indicators into something non-SDG wonks could grasp? To start, we distributed the indicators along five dimensions of child well-being.

  1. Health
  2. Learning
  3. Violence
  4. Environment
  5. Equal chance


The second hole we dove into was a data hole. There is an astonishing lack of data for the 44 indicators on SDGs related to children. That hole was deep and dark enough, but we dug deeper and wider. We wanted not only to see the current situation for children, but also whether the situation was improving at a rate that would enable us all to meet global SDG targets. But recent-enough trend data points were extremely rare.

©UNICEF/2018Are we on track to achieve the SDGs for children? On 7 March 2018, the Data and Analytics Section of UNICEF launched a flagship report assessing goals in the 44 SDGs related to children.

In the end, we determined that over half a billion of the world’s children live in countries that are effectively uncounted – that lack sufficient data to assess performance on at least two-thirds of child-related SDG indicators.

We continued by looking at the data that did exist to discern whether countries had achieved the global target, were on-track to do so, or if they would need accelerated progress to reach it. We discovered that for an additional half a billion children, the SDGs appear completely out of reach, that is, they live in countries that are off-track on at least two-thirds of the child SDG targets for which there are trend data.

For fourteen indicators, we looked at the trajectories for sub-groups of children differentiated by gender, urban-rural residence, and wealth of household. Looking at trajectories is important – it allows us see, for instance, a sub-group that may be doing relatively well but is not improving. For example, when we look at adolescent HIV infections, although there are far fewer infections in boys than in girls, boys are just as likely to be off-track for reaching the global target as girls.

We also went the extra mile to look at trajectories towards global indicators in 202 of the world’s countries and created individual country profiles – a massive exercise from which our pens and PDF writers are still recovering!

Parents holding a baby
© UNICEF/UN0119457/2017/IndiaLachcha Devi , 25 from a marginalised community is a happy mother of a month old baby. India is poised to work towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in maternal and child healthcare.

What did we find?

Though sub-Saharan Africa is off-track on most SDG targets, it also boasts the most complete data coverage across all indicators. In contrast, Europe is on track for a larger share of indicators than any other region, but also has the largest share of missing data. In short, we have better data on SDGs for children in Western Africa than in Western Europe.

Have I whetted your appetite? You can read the short-version of the report, the full report, and the 202 country profiles.


Mark Hereward is Associate Director of Data & Analytics at Division of Data, Research and Policy, UNICEF

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