Percentage of children who are vulnerable

Export Indicator

Percentage of children under 18 who are vulnerable according to the national definition.
What it measures

This indicator tracks the proportion of children made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS who potentially have special needs. If measured consistently over time, this indicator is a proxy measure of the trends in number of children in need of services and support. The percentage of children who are vulnerable taken alone or in combination with the percentage of orphans can be a very powerful indicator to create awareness of the scope of the problem and the impact of an AIDS epidemic on society. Many orphans also have characteristics that would categorize them as vulnerable, so the two proportions cannot simply be summed.


Number of children under 18 who are classified as vulnerable.


All children under 18.


A child made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS is below the age of 18 and:
i) has lost one or both parents, or
ii) has a chronically ill parent (regardless of whether the parent lives in the same household
as the child), or
iii) lives in a household where in the past 12 months at least one adult died and was sick for
3 of the 12 months before he/she died, or
iv) lives in a household where at least one adult was seriously ill for at least 3 months in the
past 12 months, or
v) lives outside of family care (i.e. lives in an institution or on the streets). (For household surveys it is recommended to include only categories: i, ii, iii and iv.)

Method of measurement

The definition of vulnerable should be decided by the country. It can take on different forms, as described in chapter 2. Please read chapter 2 (UNICEF: M&E/OVC, 2005) before using this indicator. When developing the definition of vulnerable, it is essential to make sure the criteria are measurable. For example, living in a household with a chronically ill adult is measurable, while living in a household that is impoverished is much more difficult to measure. As with any new indicator, if new measures are being proposed they should be tested in a pilot survey before being implemented in a large-scale survey. If the number of children living outside of households is substantial (more than 5 per cent of children under 18) two supplemental surveys should be considered to estimate the number of vulnerable children living on the streets and living in institutions. (See annex I (of the UNICEF: M&E/OVC, 2005) for detailed sampling guidelines.)

Measurement frequency

Age group: 1 month - 4 years, 5 years - 9 years, 10 years - 14 years, 15 years - 17 years

Education: N/A

Gender: Male, Female

Geographic location: N/A

Pregnancy status: N/A

Sector: N/A

Target: N/A

Time period: N/A

Type of orphan: N/A

Vulnerability status: Orphan, Vulnerable

Explanation of the numerator
Explanation of the denominator
Strengths and weaknesses

The biggest limitation to this indicator is the difficulty in defining vulnerable. The concept of a vulnerable child is a social construct that varies from one culture and socio-economic context to another. In addition, the term takes on various definitions that can be at odds depending on whether the term was developed for the purpose of gathering and presenting quantitative data or for developing and implementing policies and programmes. It is important to make a clear distinction between definitions developed for these two purposes and to establish a ‘firewall’ between them. Problems occur in the field when definitions established for quantitative purposes are picked up and used for programme targeting or eligibility criteria in policy and programme implementation. The quantitative process must have clear boundaries and allow for absolute distinctions. In contrast, developing and implementing programmes and services must take into account local variations in the factors that cause or constitute vulnerability. For programming and service delivery, no single specific definition will suffice for every context. The concept of vulnerability is complex and may include children who are destitute from causes other than HIV/AIDS. Children living on the streets or in institutions should also be categorized as vulnerable. These children are not covered in household surveys. As described earlier, if this population is estimated to be more than 5 per cent of all the children, surveys should be conducted in these two settings in addition to household surveys to get a truly nationally representative sample.

Further information