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Data gaps on children in residential care leave the most vulnerable unaccounted for – UNICEF

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data gap_680At least 2.7 million children are living in residential care, but this is just tip of the iceberg, study says. UNICEF Viet Nam\2011\Dominic Blewett

GENEVA/NEW YORK, 1 June 2017: At least 2.7 million children live in residential care worldwide, according to a new estimate by UNICEF. Yet the figures, published today in Child Abuse & Neglect, are likely to be just the tip of the iceberg, with wide gaps in data collection and accurate records found in the majority of countries.

 

"In residential care, such as institutions or orphanages, children who are already vulnerable due to family separation are at increased risk of violence, abuse and long-term damage to their cognitive, social and emotional development," said Cornelius Williams, Associate Director of Child Protection at UNICEF. "The priority is to keep children out of residential care and with their families, especially in the early years."

UNICEF's new estimate is based on data from 140 countries. Central and Eastern Europe was found to have the highest rate worldwide, with 666 children per 100,000 living in residential care, over 5 times the global average of 120 children per 100,000. Industrialized countries and East Asia and the Pacific region have the second and third largest rate with 192 and 153 children per 100,000 respectively.

UNICEF's study emphasizes that many countries still lack a functional system for producing accurate figures on the number of children in alternative care. In many countries, official records only capture a small fraction of the actual number of children living in residential care and children in privately owned centres are often not counted.

"It is critical that governments keep more accurate and comprehensive listings of all existing residential care facilities, as well as regularly undertake thorough counts of children living in these facilities in order to help strengthen official records," said Claudia Cappa, Statistics Specialist at UNICEF and co-author of the study. "That way we will be able to measure the breadth of the problem and work with governments to respond effectively."

Research shows some of the key risk factors that result in children being placed in residential care include family breakdown, health issues, poor or unequal provision of social services, disability and poverty.

Governments are urged to reduce the number of children living in residential care by preventing family separation where possible, and by seeking homes for children in family-based care such as foster homes. Stronger investment in community-based family support programmes is also needed, UNICEF said.

Viet Nam:

Similarly, in Viet Nam there is a gap on data relating to children who are being placed in residential care. Unpublished government data varies widely with figures ranging between 11,365 and 22,000 children in institutions, however there is no publicly available official figure. This gap was also highlighted in the Committee on the Rights of the Child's Concluding Observations in 2012 that:

"... The Committee is further concerned about the unreliable data related to the magnitude of child institutionalisation in the State party. While being aware of the development of National Minimum Standards of Care in residential facilities, the Committee is highly concerned about: the lack of adherence to the Convention‟s principles in most of the residential care facilities; reports of physical abuse and sexual exploitation of children in residential institutions; and the long periods during which children deprived of family environment are placed in institutions."

The new Law on Children that comes into effect today could bring improvements to the situation. UNICEF Viet Nam is committed to support the Government of Viet Nam in the implementation of the Law on Children as well as the Decree 56/2017/ND-CP which provides guidance on alternative care for children without proper parental care including those children currently in institutions.

For further information please contact:

  • Louis Vigneault-Dubois, UNICEF Việt Nam +84-4-38500241; +84-966539673; email : This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  •  Nguyễn Thị Thanh Hương, UNICEF Việt Nam, 84-4-38500225; +84-904154678; email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  

Notes to editors

The article is available to view for free from 1 June until 31 August 2017.

For a PDF of the article, please contact This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. "> This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.   

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About UNICEF

UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.

For more information about UNICEF and its work for children visit www.unicef.org/vietnam.

For the latest available data on children visit www.data.unicef.org 

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