THE BLOG
11/20/2014 09:25 am ET Updated Jan 20, 2015

Strengthening Children's Rights Through Better Data

Co-authored by Aleta Sprague and Amy Raub

Pop quiz: Will secondary school be free for your children? Do all girls and boys have access to health care? Are children and youth protected from hazardous labor? Are there any exceptions to these rules? Are you sure?

The answers to these questions are important--they help us see whether countries are fulfilling their commitments to children under international law. Yet while tracking down this information for one country might be feasible in an afternoon, getting a sense of global progress is a much more formidable challenge--and it shouldn't be.

Twenty-five years ago today, the U.N. General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history. The 194 parties to the CRC have agreed to uphold basic rights for all children, including non-discrimination, access to education, and protection from violence, among others.

The CRC's principles have withstood the test of time. But our methods for finding out if countries are really following through could use a 21st century refresher. So what would a modern approach to increased transparency and accountability look like?

Throughout this blog series, we've been highlighting findings from a new online tool that demonstrates the potential of real-time, visualized data on these and other questions. The current CRC monitoring system collects valuable, in-depth information about countries' progress every five years. However, a complementary monitoring system that provides directly comparable, up-to-date data on countries' actions--and harnesses new technologies to make this information readily accessible and easy-to-understand--could significantly strengthen the CRC's impact, and empower citizens around the world to push for better policies for children, youth and their families.

Take education. We've already looked at the role of school fees and compulsory attendance. But how do schools accommodate students with disabilities? Through analysis of existing published sources--countries' constitutions, laws, and policies--we can determine if there is a right to non-discrimination for disabled students, and whether girls and boys with disabilities are taught within the same classrooms as their peers. Visualizing these data on interactive maps provides policymakers, advocates, and citizens with a simple way of seeing how their country's laws and policies measure up--and whether they could do better.

The same goes for paid leave. While the vast majority of countries support children's health by providing paid leave for new mothers (though the U.S. is a notable exception), fewer than half provide any time off for dads--and when they do, it's typically for far shorter duration. Paid leave for fathers increases men's involvement with their children later in life, supports gender equality at work and at home, and reduces the chances of maternal depression and its serious consequences for women and children. Meanwhile, although breastfeeding has tremendous health benefits for both moms and babies, not all countries enable working moms to breastfeed while holding a job. A common argument against better working conditions and flexible leave policies is that they will make countries less economically competitive. But by mapping countries' policy choices around these issues, we can disrupt this myth, and show how countries across every region and income group, including the most competitive with low unemployment, have managed to enact strong social and labor policies.

These are but a few examples of the types of data and comparative global analyses that can emerge from a complementary monitoring system based on analysis of countries' published laws and policies. To accelerate change to fully protect the world's children, we need to utilize technology to provide actionable real-time information on issues such as these. Everyone should have access to information on their country's policies via their cell phone. Policymakers should have the tools they need to make informed policy decisions and be held accountable for their actions. Civil society should know which countries are leaders and which are lagging behind to target advocacy efforts. Researchers should have access to quantitatively comparable data that allow them to rigorously analyze the effectiveness of individual policies in improving outcomes. At worldpolicyforum.org, we demonstrate that these ideas are feasible.

As a next step, existing national surveys could be used to monitor global implementation of the CRC, supplemented with direct input about the nature and extent of implementation of these policies from children and their families using interactive technologies. The global community has made important progress toward fulfilling the promises of the CRC over the past 25 years, but significant challenges remain. The future of millions of children depends on how fast the world acts.

This blog post is the final installment of a four-part series from the WORLD Policy Analysis Center, presenting new data and examining progress toward securing children's rights around the world 25 years since the Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted at the United Nations. Check out the previous posts on access to education and child labor.