The democratic power of numbers

Sugarmaa Batjargal was born on a cold February day in Mongolia’s Alag-Erdene area, where the temperatures won’t rise above the freezing point for another few months. She looks like her mother,  Delgermurun. The family of seven – now including five children – lives in a ger, the nomadic tent structures of the Mongolian countryside, fronted by a bright turquoise door, the only splash of color in this remote, frozen landscape, other than the family’s vibrantly colored coats.

Delgermurun has great aspirations for her kids: “I dream that they will become well-educated and knowledgeable people and that they will complete their education. I hope that my second daughter, who’s sturdy and muscled, might become a wrestler.”

Proof in the numbers

Sugarmaa was born in a health centre near the family home. She was a healthy infant, thanks to the midwife who visited during pregnancy and taught Delgermurun about proper nutrition and other ways to properly care for a baby in the harsh conditions of Mongolia’s northernmost province. At the health centre, measures that promote breastfeeding and other vital practices for newborn health, nutrition and survival have been put in place through UNICEF support. Now, newborn mortality rates in the area are decreasing significantly, from 15.4 deaths in 2014 per 1,000 live births to 13 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2017.

Sugarmaa is one of these numbers, her story one of life and a mother’s dreams of a bright future. But the numbers also tell the story of loss, deprivation and inequity. The numbers bear witness to a violation of human rights, the violation of a child’s right to enter the world and live and thrive.


Delgermurun hopes her children will become “well-educated” and “knowledgeable”; ©UNICEF/UN0188830

Telling the full story

Numbers provide a voice to the uncounted and shed light on the invisible.

As the custodian of children’s rights, UNICEF stands firm in its commitment to producing the highest-quality data. Because behind every number is a child deprived and a story of inequity. Only with the right data in hand can governments effectively work toward attaining the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals. As such, data are a public good and must be available, standardized and consumable.

To truly drive long-term results for the most disadvantaged children, data must find their way into the right hands. The surest way to achieve that is a firm commitment to open data, or the universal, unrestricted, auditable, free access to standardized data.


Transparent and available

UNICEF is in the midst of rolling out easy-to-use, accessible open data platforms for our key indicators and databases that cover the array of issues affecting the world’s children, like nutrition, education and social protection.

A key first milestone was the launch of the updated, built over open data services. The site makes the United Nations Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation the latest and most reliable data and estimates on child survival around the world that are available via machine-readable SDMX (Statistical Data and Metadata Exchange) data services, an update that enhances transparency and auditability. An international initiative, SDMX aims to standardize the exchange of statistical data and metadata among international organizations and their member countries. is now easier than ever to use by any interested party, be it a Member State, journalist or academic, allowing these key data to be understood and leveraged in the interest of children.


In the right hands

This is just the first step. Through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-funded Helix project, UNICEF’s Data and Analytics Team will continue to implement public, globally accessible, web-based open data services that share our global public indicators on the state of children and women.

All of UNICEF’s child-focused SDG indicators will be made available following open data standards over the course of 2019.

UNICEF’s commitment to open data is, in essence, a commitment to targeted, efficient global communication: Open data allows the right information to get to the right people at the right time – to decision-makers and key influencers so that policy decisions can be better informed, more equitable, and more likely to protect children’s rights; to children and communities so that they may hold the powers that be accountable for the decisions that impact their rights.

Open data ensures children like Sugarmaa and her family get the services, opportunities and choices they deserve to live life to the fullest – and if the system fails them, to ensure that governments and communities have the means to know and act.

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