By Lin Taylor
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Millions of girls are left "invisible" because of a lack of data, a children's charity said on Monday, and the absence of accurate statistics on issues such as sexual violence means policymakers cannot draw up effective plans to help them.
There is no data that fully captures the daily realities of girls in poor communities, Plan International said in a report, including why girls drop out of school or how many become pregnant because of sexual violence.
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"We do count how many girls start school, but we actually don't count how many girls leave school," said Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, CEO of Plan International.
"We also don't have any data on why they leave school - whether they were forced into marriage, whether they became pregnant, or were sexually assaulted at school," she said in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"It's leaving a lot of girls invisible."
Globally it is estimated over 2 million girls under the age of 15 become mothers each year, but the number is uncertain as official data tends to only track births of women aged 15 to 49 even though girls can get pregnant from age 11 or so onwards.
UNICEF estimates around 150 million girls around the world have been sexually assaulted.
Since talking about sexual violence or reproductive rights remains a taboo in some communities, Albrectsen said, collecting accurate statistics on these issues is the most challenging, as there are "political and cultural hurdles to overcome."
Without data, intervention programs cannot effectively improve the lives of girls who are most at risk, she added.
The report comes a year after world leaders agreed on an ambitious new set of global goals designed to improve lives in all countries by 2030.
The U.N.'s 17 Sustainable Development Goals with 169 targets are a roadmap to end poverty and hunger, fight gender inequality and conquer climate change over the next 15 years.
Albrectsen said governments must invest in data collection, and capture meaningful statistics that reflect what girls in their communities are facing, such as pregnancies, rape and school drop-outs.
"With the availability of data, the lived realities of girls will become a lot more visible to policymakers," she said.
(Reporting by Lin Taylor @linnytayls, Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian issues, conflicts, global land and property rights, modern slavery and human trafficking, women's rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories)