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The History of UNICEF

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UNICEF is the acronym for the United Nations Children’s Fund, formerly known as the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund.  Despite its former name and present acronym, UNICEF’s mission and activities extend beyond the administration of an emergency fund.  UNICEF collects data on children and children’s issues worldwide and provides education, treatment, policy recommendations and funding to children, families and developing countries to support those activities. Source:  UNICEF Website. The history of UNICEF shows how UNICEF has evolved since its inception to encompass all of the functions it currently serves.

The Beginning

UNICEF was created by the United Nations General Assembly on December 11, 1946 to provide food, healthcare, and clothing assistance to children in European nations affected by World War II and its aftermath and to address similar issues in China.  Source:  UNICEF FAQ.

The Early Years

The 1950’s marked expanded importance for UNICEF.  In 1950, UNICEF’s mandate was broadened from emergency funding to include long term needs for children and women worldwide. In 1953, UNICEF became a permanent agency of the United Nations.  UNICEF’s name was also changed in 1953 to the United Nations Children’s Fund, although the acronym remained UNICEF despite the name change.

Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF

In 1950, the honored tradition of “Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF” was initiated in the United States.  On Halloween evening, United States children collect funds to donate to UNICEF to help children who are less fortunate.  The tradition continues to the present day.  As of 2003, children of the United States had raised more that $119 million for UNICEF.  Source: UNICEF press release, 27 October 2003.

UNICEF Expands Again

The 1960’s marked another expansion and international recognition for UNICEF.  In 1961, UNICEF expanded its focus to include education issues for children and women in developing countries.  Previously, health and basic welfare had been the main focuses of UNICEF.  At that time, UNICEF turned its attention to teacher training and equipping learning facilities in developing countries.  By 1965, UNICEF’s influence garnered the organization a Nobel Peace Prize for “promoting brotherhood among nations.” 

Growing Awareness and Political Strength

By the 1970’s and 1980’s, UNICEF had enough international recognition to publicize issues facing women and children globally and had begun to politicize its efforts by making policy recommendations through its data and studies.  UNICEF declared 1979 the “International Year of the Child” and invited nations and organizations worldwide to reaffirm their commitment to children’s issues.  In 1987, UNICEF published a study, “Adjustment with a Human Face,” that addressed issues of how to protect children and women from the effects of economic reforms that were occurring to reduce national debt in poorer countries.  The study sparked international economic debate on the topic. 

UNICEF Brings Awareness to Children in Conflicts

UNICEF helped bring attention to another global issue for children in the 1990’s. Global conflicts in which children were either armed combatants or victims of the devastation lead UNICEF to support the publication of The Machel Report:  The Impace of Armed Conflict on Children in 1996.  By 1998, the United Nations General Assembly had its first public discussion of the effects of war on children.  Source:  UNICEF timeline


Today, UNICEF operates in 191 countries worldwide.  UNICEF currently works in areas of HIV/AIDS prevention, gender issues, health and education for women and children worldwide.  UNICEF helps bring funding and awareness to issues facing women and children worldwide.  As the timeline above shows, UNICEF’s efforts and funding have helped bring many issues affecting children and women worldwide to light and have sparked much-needed global debate on such issues. 

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