With its focus on the needs and rights of the child, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) devotes as much as 80 percent of its funds to programs that can be classified under the broad umbrella of public health. Working in partnership with governments as well as health-related organizations, notably the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF is active in programs ranging from immunization and oral rehydration campaigns to water and sanitation projects, and from the fight against acute respiratory infections to the elimination of polio and micronutrient deficiencies. Its contribution to international public health, particularly for children and mothers, has been significant and extensive. Indeed, in the last two decades of the twentieth century, UNICEF, with its activist leadership, helped shape the agenda of international health.
THE EVOLUTION OF UNICEF
The United Nations General Assembly created the UN International Children's Emergency Fund as a temporary agency on December 11, 1946, to provide urgent relief aid to children in countries ravaged by World War II in Europe and Asia. Its assistance consisted of food, shelter, and medicine. In 1953, the General Assembly gave the fund a continuing mandate to help needy children in developing countries and dropped the words "international" and "emergency" from its name. By then, however, the acronym "UNICEF" had become so well known that the Assembly retained it.
With infant mortality as high as 150 to 200 per 1,000 live births in many parts of Asia, Latin America, and Africa, UNICEF soon turned its attention to the urgent health issues of children and mothers. Guidance for such work came from a joint WHO/UNICEF committee on health policies that involved members of the governing boards of both institutions. In recent years, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) has also joined the committee.
In the early 1950s, infectious diseases were rampant in many parts of the world, and UNICEF became heavily involved in campaigns against those diseases that could be prevented or for which there was a ready treatment. UNICEF furnished equipment and supplies to countries for mass-disease campaigns, with WHO providing the technical support. These campaigns included malaria, yaws, tuberculosis, typhus, trachoma, and leprosy. In its efforts to reduce infant mortality, UNICEF also promoted the training of traditional birth attendants and provided equipment, medicine, and transport for maternal and child health services.
The 1960s saw UNICEF working with the WHO and many governments in extending rural health services, and with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in fighting child malnutrition. Planning for the development of the "whole child," instead of a more piecemeal approach, became the basis of UNICEF's broader program thrust that opened the door for its focus on education as part of preparation for life.
In 1965 UNICEF was awarded the Noble Peace Prize, thus linking its services for future generations with peace building. The Prize provided a solid base from which to build its effective role in advocacy for children.
UNICEF was the first UN body to take up the issue of family planning. Though the controversial subject was presented in the context of responsible parenthood to UNICEF's executive board in 1966, after an unprecedented and acrimonious debate the deeply divided board deferred its decision by one year, and it eventually took a relatively mild stance on the issue. As UNFPA was created in 1967, the pressure for UNICEF to take up the issue head-on was eased.
By the early 1970s, UNICEF shifted its emphasis to the provision of basic services for children (including education), while it maintained a predominance of its fund allocations to health programs. Though UNICEF changed its stance from its origin as a relief agency to that of a development organization, it continued to respond to emergencies. In 1974, in response to the global economic, food, and energy crises, UNICEF declared a child emergency and launched a special program to meet the urgent needs that existed.
Also in the 1970s, communication activities in support of programs made their appearance as a regular feature of UNICEF programs. These efforts were later broadened to include all relevant elements of society for a common objective, an approach now recognized as an effective development strategy by many development agencies and often referred to as "social mobilization."
ALMA-ATA AND IYC
After two decades of development, and frustrated by the slow progress for a vast majority of the rural population, public health professionals and development specialists began looking for alternative approaches to health care. Their efforts culminated in the 1978 Alma-Ata Conference, cosponsored by WHO and UNICEF, which produced the Declaration of Alma-Ata on Primary Health Care (PHC). The declaration codified earlier efforts by health pioneers in getting health care to the rural poor, and it defined a new philosophy of health that was for the people and by the people. This represented a revolutionary redefinition of health care and involved the training and employment of lay workers to tackle specific tasks at the community level, with appropriate referrals to secondary and tertiary facilities. The declaration called for a multisectoral approach to health, based on the principles of social justice, equity, self-reliance, and the use of appropriate technology.
The year 1979 was called by the UN General Assembly the International Year of the Child (IYC), and UNICEF was designated as IYC secretariat. A network of national IYC committees carried out a broad range of country-level activities, considerably expanding UNICEF's level of political advocacy and presaging UNICEF's activism of the 1980s.
CHILD SURVIVAL AND DEVELOPMENT REVOLUTION AND GOBI
In 1982 UNICEF launched its Child Survival and Development Revolution (CSDR), which focused on four inexpensive interventions to reduce child deaths. The acronym "GOBI" represents the four program components of CSDR: growth monitoring to detect early signs of child malnutrition; oral rehydration to prevent death by dehydration as a consequence of diarrhea; breast-feeding to stop the unhealthy and often deadly effects of infant formula in poor communities; and immunization against six vaccine-preventable diseases (polio, measles, tuberculosis, whooping cough, tetanus, and diphtheria). Subsequently, UNICEF added food security, female education, and family planning to complement GOBI.
Initially, the WHO expressed caution because it viewed GOBI as vertical interventions, in contrast to the PHC approach, which called for a more horizontal approach that would strengthen health systems. UNICEF was able to reassure WHO officials that GOBI programs were meant to establish entry points for PHC, and the WHO became a partner in GOBI activities. It also joined UNICEF in sponsoring the Bamako Initiative, which aimed at making available essential drugs to African countries as part of PHC, but with cost-recovery and community management as key elements of the initiative.
The term "child survival" proved an effective tool to garner considerable extra resources for child health programs. GOBI programs involving broad-scale social mobilization and the participation of many nongovernmental organizations became dominant public health activities in most developing countries in the 1980s. The oral rehydration and immunization programs have saved millions of children's lives annually. Along with GOBI, UNICEF also started a global effort in health education with its "Facts for Life" health messages, in which WHO and UNESCO were also associated.
WORLD SUMMIT ON CHILDREN
Following the initial success of GOBI, UNICEF engaged in promoting and organizing the World Summit for Children in 1990, which brought more than seventy heads of state and representatives of more than eighty member states to New York for a two-day meeting. The summit was precedent setting, as it was the largest such gathering and the first summit on social issues. It produced a declaration, a plan of action, and a set of goals to be achieved by the year 2000, most of which were in the public health domain. UNICEF followed up the summit with individual national plans of action to reach the goals, and has published an annual Progress of Nations to monitor and report on progress.
Concurrent with the summit preparation, the movement to turn the Declaration of the Rights of the Child into the convention made headway. In 1990 the General Assembly adopted the convention, and thus far all member states of the UN have signed the convention, and all but the United States and Somalia have ratified the treaty. UNICEF's current programs are now firmly set in the context of rights. In recent years, UNICEF has not only successfully promoted the convention, but has also undertaken programs in the fields of child labor and the removal of land mines.
There have been impressive gains as a result of UNICEF's contribution to various public health programs. About 7 million young lives are now saved each year as a result of immunization and oral rehydration. Polio has been eliminated from the Americas. Guinea worm cases in Africa have been reduced by 97 percent. An estimated 90 million infants worldwide are protected from a significant loss of intelligence quotient and learning ability because their families use iodized salt that stops iodine deficiency. In spite of the gains, the review of the year 2000 goals scheduled to take place in September 2001 is likely to show that the majority of the targets have not been met. HIV/AIDS (human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) has become a major killer of children in Africa. The gap between countries and within countries has continued to widen. Few countries have paid heed to the Summit For Children call for 20 percent of national development investment in the social sector and 20 percent of international development assistance in the social field.
With its role in the summit, however, UNICEF played a major role in setting the international public health agenda for the last decade of the twentieth century, and the General Assembly Special Session for Children in September 2001 is likely to influence public health activities in first decade or two of the new millennium.
UNICEF faces the twenty-first century invigorated by prospects in tackling problems that impact harshly on children in developing countries. With deepening poverty and a widening gap between the rich and poor, plus escalating violence as a result of armed conflict and civil disturbances, child health and women's health will remain major foci of UNICEF.
Malaria, immunization, and micronutrient disorders are among old problems receiving substantial new infusions of funds. HIV/AIDS programs and safe motherhood activities will also be expanded in the years to come. Given the activism of many nongovernmental organizations, including secular, professional, and service-based organizations, and the potential collaboration of the commercial sector, UNICEF's cooperation with the civil society is likely to increase in the years to come.
Beginning in 1946 with a modest residue of funds from the defunct UN Relief and Rehabilitation Agency, UNICEF has grown to be a sizable development and humanitarian organization with an annual budget of around $1 billion. It operates entirely on voluntary contributions from both governmental and private sources. In addition to regular contributions, many governments also make special contributions for specific purposes, especially during emergencies. A network of thirty-seven national committees, registered as nonprofit entities in the industrialized countries, inform the public about the needs and rights of the child and raise funds to support UNICEF.
UNICEF has undertaken pioneering work with public personalities, including those in the performing arts or athletics, to generate public support for public health issues. A roster of goodwill ambassadors provides effective support in reaching specific audiences. Income from private sources includes the sale of greeting cards, the Halloween Trick for Treat for UNICEF campaign, television appeals, and special events such as concerts and sports activities. Substantial grants from private foundations, such as the ones created by Ted Turner and Bill Gates, are making private income an increasingly important resource for UNICEF.
As an operating agency of the United Nations, UNICEF is headed by an executive director, who is appointed by the Secretary General of the UN in consultation of its thirty-six-member executive board. Board members are in turn elected by the Economic and Social Council of the UN. There have only been four executive directors, all U.S. citizens, since its inception. Maurice Pate, a banker with experience in humanitarian relief, was the first. Pate steered the organization in its formative years and built its foundation. Henry R. Labouisse, a lawyer and the first foreign-aid chief for President John F. Kennedy, succeeded Pate. James P. Grant, another lawyer and president of the Overseas Development Council, followed Labouisse. Grant launched CSDR/GOBI and orchestrated the UN Summit for Children. Carol Bellamy, a lawyer and a former Director of the Peace Corps, succeeded Grant as executive director in 1995.
With a global staff of nearly 5,600, UNICEF operates from its headquarters at the United Nations in New York. There are eight regional offices—in Bangkok, Katmandu, Amman, Abidjan, Nairobi, Bogota, Tokyo, and Geneva—and 125 field offices serving 161 countries. UNICEF representatives at the country level have considerably more authority and resources than those of its sister UN agencies, but they generally serve under the leadership of the UN resident coordinator.
Jack Chieh-Sheng Ling
Black, M. (1987). The Children and the Nations. Australia: Macmillan Co.
Keeny, S. M. (1957). Half the World's Children: A Diary of UNICEF at Work in Asia. New York: Association Press.
Speigelman, J. (1986). We Are the Children. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press.
UNICEF (1980–2000). State of the World's Children Reports. New York: Author.
To address the increasing hunger and disease among European children in the wake of World War II, in 1946 the United Nations established a temporary agency, the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF). In addition to its charge to relieve famine, UNICEF worked with the World Health Organization, founded by the UN in 1950, to reduce infant mortality rates, establish mass immunization programs, and organize malaria control demonstration areas in Latin America, Europe, and Africa, as well as tuberculosis testing programs in India, Europe, North Africa, and China.
As a result of its efforts, in 1953 the UN General Assembly established UNICEF as a permanent body under a new name, the United Nations Children's Fund. Its mandate to the world's children remained the provision of safe water, health care, nutrition, sanitation, and education. It also retained its original charge to supply emergency assistance to children affected by crises of war and natural disasters in coordination with other UN and humanitarian agencies. In recognition of its role in uplifting the world's children, the Nobel Peace Prize Committee selected UNICEF as its 1965 recipient. The 1989 UN Convention on the Rights ofthe Child further guided UNICEF's mission to aid countries in implementing its provisions and to uphold international standards of children's rights established by the convention and its two protocols adopted in 2000 regarding children engaged in armed conflict and trafficking in children, child pornography, and child prostitution.
Under the direction of the General Assembly and the UN's Economic and Social Council, UNICEF is administered by an Executive Board headquartered in New York City. The Executive Board's thirty-six seats are regionally allocated and members serve for a period of three years. The Board is assisted in its work of identifying special program needs and monitoring program effectiveness by the Innocenti Research Centre, located in Florence, Italy, which was created in 1988 to help collect and analyze data on indices of children's well-being for UNICEF.
UNICEF is funded entirely from voluntary sources. Governments and intergovernmental organizations contribute nearly two-thirds of its income. The remainder of its budget is largely funded by private sector groups and individuals as well as nongovernmental organizations, principally the UNICEF National Committees, which exist in thirty-seven countries. These National Committees promote UNICEF's programs within their states and raise funds for its projects through private sector partnerships and selling UNICEF greeting cards and products. In 2001, UNICEF contributions totaled $1.2 billion. From contributions received, UNICEF allocates direct program aid to countries proportionate to need, determined by assessing a state's mortality rate of children under five, the population of its children, and its income level (GNP per capita).
The goals of UNICEF for the first decade of the twenty-first century included the continued promotion of education, especially targeting increased enrollment of girls and child workers, eradication of child trafficking, institution of programs to prevent violence against women and girls, establishment of special programs for children with disabilities, reintegration of child soldiers into their communities, provision of HIV/AIDS information and prevention of mother-to-child transmission of the disease, as well as continued collaboration with the World Health Organization to prevent common childhood diseases and malnutrition. Immunization programs to eliminate vaccine-preventable diseases of childhood remained a major priority; in 2001, UNICEF provided 40 per cent of the vaccines for the world's children and was the main supplier of vaccines to developing countries.
See also: Child Pornography; Child Prostitution; International Organizations; Juvenile Justice: International; Soldier Children: Gobal Human Rights Issues; Vaccination.
Arat, Zehra F. 2002. "Analyzing Child Labor as a Human Rights Issue: Its Causes, Aggravating Policies, and Alternative Proposals." Human Rights Quarterly 24: 177–204.
Hamm, Brigitte I. 2001. "A Human Rights Approach to Development." Human Rights Quarterly 23: 1005–1031.
Keraka, Margaret Nyanchoka. 2003. "Child Morbidity and Mortality in Slum Environments Along Nairobi River." Eastern Africa Social Science Research Review 19: 41–57.
UNICEF. 2003. The State of the World's Children 2003. New York: UNICEF.
Watt, Alan S., and Eleanor Roosevelt. 1949. The Work of the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund: Its Origin and Policies: Statements to the General Assembly of the United Nations. Lake Success, NY: The Fund.
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UNICEF. Available from <www.unicef.org>.
Diane E. Hill
Founded by the United Nations (UN), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF, retained from its original name United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund) is an organization responsible for providing humanitarian assistance to children in developing countries. Its services promote the development of community groups for the well-being of local children.
As of 2006, UNICEF, headquartered in New York City, participates in efforts to improve children's rights in 191 developing and transitional countries. It is actively established within 156 developing countries. UNICEF works with organizations around the world to counter the devastating effects that abuse, disease, discrimination, exploitation, neglect, poverty, and violence have on children.
UNICEF was founded in December 11, 1946, to furnish clothing, food, health care, and other necessities to European children adversely affected by World War II (1939–1945). The U.N. expanded its charter in 1950, making it responsible for children's welfare in over 150 developing countries.
In 1953, UNICEF became a permanent part of the United Nations. Its first major activity was a global campaign to eliminate the infectious disease yaws that, at the time, affected millions of children. The disfiguring tropical disease of the bones, joints, and skin is caused by the bacterium Treponema pertenue. The incidence of yaws was reduced among children with the use of penicillin.
In 1959, UNICEF became guided by the U.N.'s Declaration of the Rights of the Child, which made it easier to establish international standards for children's rights in education, health care, nutrition, protection, and shelter.
The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to UNICEF in 1965 for “the promotion of brotherhood among nations.” UNICEF highlighted the rights of children in 1979— naming it the U.N. International Year of the Child.
During the 1980s, UNICEF adopted the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes (to promote breast milk use); launched Child Survival and Development Revolution (founded on low-cost techniques applied to breastfeeding, child development, and immunization); and adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child (which became a global human rights treaty).
In the decade of the 1990s, UNICEF sponsored the World Summit for Children, whose goal is to improve children's education, health, and nutrition. UNICEF also emphasized the harmful influence that armed conflicts have on children. In the 2000s, UNICEF sponsors the Global Movement for Children and organized a historic Special Session of the UN General Assembly that was dedicated to children's rights.
The United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECO-SOC) is the parent organization to UNICEF. The five primary goals of UNICEF are: (1) establish international rights for children and create an international ethical standard of behavior toward children; (2) provide survival and developmental opportunities for children; (3) ensure that children are provided basic care, education, gender equality, health, nutrition, and nurturing; (4) protect children from abuse, exploitation, and violence; and (5) counter infectious diseases, especially HIV/AIDS, which has spread among children.
UNICEF upholds the United Nation's Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The CRC is an international convention that establishes the cultural, economic, political, and social rights of children. UNICEF also participates in the Global Movement for Children, an international effort dedicated to building a better world for children by assuring that violations of their rights do not occur.
In some countries, such as the United States and Canada, fundraising for UNICEF is especially popular at Halloween when its “Trick-Or-Treat for UNICEF” program takes place, where children go from house to house collecting donations for UNICEF.
WORDS TO KNOW
IMMUNODEFICIENCY DISORDER: In immunodeficiency disorders, part of the body's immune system is missing or defective, thus impairing the body's ability to fight infections. As a result, the person with an immunodeficiency disorder will have frequent infections that are generally more severe and last longer than usual.
NUTRITIONAL SUPPLEMENTS: Nutritional supplements are substances necessary to health, such as calcium or protein, that are taken in concentrated form to compensate for dietary insufficiency, poor absorption, unusually high demand for that nutrient, or other reasons.
SANITATION: Sanitation is the use of hygienic recycling and disposal measures that prevent disease and promote health through sewage disposal, solid waste disposal, waste material recycling, and food processing and preparation.
UNICEF works to counter diseases within children around the world. Its Immunization Plus program has made significant improvements in children's health with respect to infectious diseases over the last three decades. UNICEF provides information, services, and products to fight childhood diseases such as educational programs, immunizations, and nutritional supplements. However, UNICEF estimates that two million children still die from diseases that are preventable with inexpensive vaccines.
UNICEF is especially concerned with children who are targets of abuse, exploitation, and violence. Its child protection programs include the countering of such practices as childhood marriages, child labor, female genital mutilation, sexual exploitation, slave trafficking, and other crimes.
In September 2000, the Millennium Declaration was established at the U.N. Millennium Summit in New York City. Among the global statistics held at the time of the Summit concerning children, hunger, poverty, and diseases are: nearly 600 million children live on less than one dollar (U.S. equivalence) a day; over 500 million do not have access to sanitation facilities; around 15 million have seen one or both parents die from HIV/AIDS (human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome); and over ten million die of hunger and preventable diseases each year.
UNICEF personnel work to break the connection between poverty, hunger, and diseases among children. Poverty contributes to hunger and malnutrition in children, which, leads to increased incidences in diseases, which, in turn, is a leading factor that causes over one-half of all children's deaths under five years of age in developing countries.
The goals of the Millennium Declaration state that by the year 2015: it will reduce by 50% the proportion of people living on less than one dollar per day and the proportion of people who suffer from hunger. Consequently, UNICEF is dedicated to reducing hunger and poverty in children throughout developing countries. Immunization for infectious diseases is the critical factor in UNICEF's work. As a result, UNICEF has become an international leader in providing vaccines to children. UNICEF purchases and distributes vaccines to over 40% of children located in developing countries. It also works to create and maintain local health systems and to improve at-home child care.
See AlsoChildhood Infectious Diseases, Immunization Impacts; Tropical Infectious Diseases; United Nations Millennium Goals and Infectious Disease; Vaccines and Vaccine Development.
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William Arthur Atkins
By: Jim Hollander
Date: March 25, 2002
Source: © Reuters/Corbis.
About the Photographer: Jim Hollander is a chief photographer for Reuters, a worldwide news agency based in London. Hollander has operated primarily out of Israel since 1983.
On December 11, 1946, the United Nations General Assembly created the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF). The fund was created with the mandate to swiftly meet the emergency food, clothing, and health needs of children in Europe and China. From 1946 to 1950, as Europe reconstructed following World War II, UNICEF provided approximately $112 million in aid to children in twelve countries. The organization delivered five million in clothing, vaccinated eight million against tuberculosis, provided supplementary meals to children, and rebuilt milk factories.
As Europe emerged from rebuilding after the war, UNICEF adopted a new mandate. In 1950, the organization broadened its directive to include meeting the long-term needs of mothers and children in developing countries. To aid in reaching this goal, the United Nations made UNICEF part of its permanent system in 1953. To meet the long-range needs of children in developing nations, UNICEF worked against diseases such as leprosy, malaria, and tuberculosis. The organization worked with countries to develop clean sanitation and programs to develop and distribute food. In addition, education became part of the UNICEF mandate, as healthcare education programs for mothers and children were developed, in addition to training for mothers, daycare, and neighborhood centers.
After winning the Nobel Prize in 1965, UNICEF once again broadened its scope of concern as it developed programs to become advocates for children in developing nations. This approach works with the nations' governments to address the physical, intellectual, psychological, and vocational needs of children. The United Nations marked 1979 as the International Year of the Child and encouraged the governments and organizations to reaffirm their focus as articulated in the 1965 adoption of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child. To meet this goal, in 1983, UNICEF launched a health-care campaign which focused on immunizations, oral rehydration therapy, and support for breastfeeding and good nutrition.
In 1996, UNICEF began to address the issue of violence and its impact on children. The group funded "A Report of the Expert of the Secretary-General, Ms. Graça Machel: The Impact of Armed Conflict on Children," which discussed the effects of war on children. In 1998, the United Nations Security Council opened its first debate on the impact of wars on children.
See primary source image.
In 1992, the Soviet-backed government in Afghanistan dissolved, which led to rival warlords struggling for power. As civil war broke out across the nation, the Taliban was the only group successful in establishing peace. The Taliban, a group of mullahs, or Islamic scholars, were led by Mullah Mohammad Omar and began to seize power throughout Afghanistan through policies of aggressively attacking opponents. In 1996, the Taliban captured Kabul, the capital, and then created the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. The Taliban instituted Sharia (Islamic law) as the foundation for the government. One of the first policies implemented by the Taliban was the closing of girls' schools. Women were forced to stop working. Policies dictating social behavior were enforced by the Ministry for the Enforcement of Virtue and Suppression of Vice, or the Amr bil-Maroof wa Nahi An il-Munkir. Those girls who attended clandestine schools held in the home risked being punished by beatings. In addition to the closing of girls' schools, the Taliban's ban on working women left other schools without teachers—as many as seventy percent of teachers were women. As a result, nationwide illiteracy rates began to climb.
Since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, international organizations have worked to recreate the educational system in Afghanistan. As of 2006, enrollment in primary and secondary schools in the rebuilding country rose from nine hundred thousand to over five million. Many of these new students are girls who were not allowed to attend school under the Taliban. By 2003, over two hundred schools were rebuilt and approximately forty percent of school-aged girls were attending. Programs directed and funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development have sought to quickly retrain and develop a base of teachers.
However, the fundamentalist forces have launched campaigns against these girls' schools. In 2006, schools that educate girls were the targets of arson. Those opposing the education of girls have left letters of intimidation at teachers' homes or even killed teachers and headmasters to dissuade parents from sending their children to school.
Barker, Kim. "Extremists Target Schools in Afghanistan." Chicago Tribune (April 12, 2006).
Kugler, R. Anthony. "Educating Afghanistan's Girls." Faces (September 1, 2003).
Powell, Sian. "Afghan Girls Fight to Learn." The Australian (May 22, 2006).
UNICEF. <http://www.unicef.org.uk> (accessed June 11, 2006).
UNICEF / ˈyoōnəˌsef/ an agency of the United Nations established in 1946 to help governments (esp. in developing countries) improve the health and education of children and their mothers.