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Who are the Invisible?

Millions of children navigate life without protection from deliberate harm. These children become invisible when they suffer abuse and exploitation in hidden situations and go uncounted in statistics. Even children we see every day can become ‘invisible’ to us when they are neglected or ignored.


Birth registration
Children who are not registered at birth are not counted in statistics or formally recognized as members of society. Without a formal identity, children may not have access to essential services including education, healthcare and social security, and cannot protect themselves in dangerous situations where they may not be treated as children.

  • Every year, 55 per cent of all births in the developing world (excluding China) go unregistered: over 50 million children beginning life with no identity.

  • In South Asia alone, 24 million children are not registered at birth, the region with the highest number of unregistered births.

  • In sub-Saharan Africa, 18 million births are unregistered.


Children who suffer the death of their parents are denied their first line of protection. Burdened by sudden responsibilities or forced to fend for themselves, many become less visible in their communities because they drop out of school or fall victim to exploitation.

  • 143 million children in the developing world - 1 in every 13 - are orphans.

  • More than 16 million children were orphaned in 2003 alone.

  • 15 million children have already been orphaned by AIDS.

Children on the streets
Tens of millions of children live on the streets in plain sight, but paradoxically are among the most invisible, their plight ignored and their needs neglected. Street children are vulnerable to all forms of exploitation and abuse.

Children in detention
There is scarce data on children who are detained, but current estimates put the figure at more than 1 million children globally. Their access to healthcare, education and protection is far from guaranteed. Many of these children are no longer treated as children and suffer physical and sexual violence. UNICEF firmly believes that detention should be a last resort and only a temporary measure for children.


Hundreds of thousands of children are caught up in armed conflict as combatants, messengers, porters, cooks and sex slaves for armed forces and groups. While under the control of armed forces, children are forced to participate in and endure horrific atrocities. It is estimated that over 250,000 children are currently serving as child soldiers in armed conflicts worldwide.

Early marriage
Early marriage can put an end to all education opportunities and is all too often the gateway to a lifetime of domestic and sexual subservience. It can also lead to early death for young brides who become pregnant prematurely: girls under 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than girls in their twenties. Their children are also less likely to survive.

  • 1 in every 3 girls in the developing world is married before 18.

  • In the poorest countries, the ratio rises to 1 in every 2 girls.

Hazardous labour
An estimated 171 million children – of which 73 million are under 10 years old – are working in hazardous situations or conditions, including work with chemicals and pesticides in agriculture, with dangerous machinery or in mines. These children face serious risks of injury, illness and death, and many are missing out on education.


Children who are trafficked disappear into underground and illegal worlds, most often forced into commercial sex work, hazardous labour or domestic service. They are almost entirely invisible in statistics. The best available estimate is that 1.2 million children are trafficked every year.

Forced labour
An estimated 8.4 million children work under horrific circumstances: forced into debt bondage or other forms of slavery, prostitution, pornography, armed conflict or other illicit activities. Forced labour is largely a hidden problem, with little official data or public awareness on its nature or extent.

Domestic service
It is likely that millions of children toil in private homes but the hidden nature of this work makes a reliable figure impossible to obtain. Children who are exploited in domestic service are among the most invisible child labourers. Many are banned entirely from going to school, suffer physical abuse and are underfed or overworked.