COVID-19: The importance of collecting data from children ethically

Date: 1st May 2020
Category: Disability, Basic Health and Welfare, Civil Rights and Freedoms, Education, Leisure and Cultural Activities, Family Environment and Alternative Care, General principles


COVID-19 continues to impact the lives of children in a variety of ways and collecting information can aid the response to the current and future pandemics. Despite the need to understand, quantify, forecast and track COVID-19, data collection without ethical consideration can lead to negative outcomes for children who need support. This discussion paper examines what considerations need to occur and why.

Data collection is necessary to secure the rights of children, ensure that they have a voice, are safe and protected and that their basic needs are met. However, if equity, justice, respect, privacy, purpose limitations are not considered, negative outcomes for children will likely ensue including:

  1. Significant exposure to risk of traumatisation due to inappropriate questions and timing and an inability to determine where participants may be within trauma and healing cycles.
  2. Difficulties responding to and ensuring an appropriate duty of care during the emergency and immediately after.
  3. Perceived and actual privacy and confidentiality violations which can impact the participant and erode the trust of the participant and their communities.
  4. Data obtained for one purpose, such as contract tracing, being misused for political/social surveillance.
  5. Potential reprisals against child participation.
  6. Poorly designed evidence generation that produces unreliable data including, for example the use of technology which may not be accessible to all children. This can lead to poorly informed policies and future risk mitigation in outbreaks that fail to equitably meet children’s needs and long-term development.
  7. Missed opportunities to obtain children’s perspectives and insights during data collection. 

Read the UNICEF discussion paper in full