Thematic Overview
1946 –1959   UNICEF - The Agency for Children

1960 –1979   The Development Decades
1980 –1989   Child Survival and Development
1990 –1999   Recognizing Children’s Rights
2000 –           Children and Millennium Development Goals

see also UNICEF Milestones by Year

The thematic overview draws on the UNICEF pamphlet 1946-2006 Sixty Years for Children, based on the historical works about UNICEF by Maggie Black: Children First: The story of UNICEF past and present and The Children and the Nations. UNICEF at 60: A brief look back, and ahead provides video and photo essays.

Additional material was drawn from papers written by Jack Charnow UNICEF’s first and long-serving Secretary of the Executive Board.
See also UNICEF at 40  An overview of UNICEF's first forty years printed in UNICEF NEWS.

Aiding children of "ex-enemy countries"

UNICEF’s initial priority was to carry on the post-war child relief work of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration then being liquidated. During the final meeting of UNRAA , held in Geneva in 1946, Ludwik Rajchman, the delegate from Poland proposed that UNRRA ’s residual resources be put to work for children through a United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund – an ‘ICEF’. Rajchman is thus considered the founder of UNICEF.

Maurice Pate agreed to become UNICEF’s first Executive Director only on condition that the new agency would be able to help children of 'ex-enemy countries'. UNICEF’s work in behalf of children was an important way of helping create an atmosphere of international solidarity transcending political and ideological boundaries. UNICEF subsequently played a pivotal role in war-torn countries as the only UN agency allowed to provide aid without discrimination to all factions.

During its early years, UNICEF’s resources were devoted largely to
meeting the emergency needs of children in Europe for food, drugs and clothing. At the peak of UNICEF operations in Europe, some 6 million children received a daily supplementary meal through 50,000 centres in 12 countries. In addition, clothing and shoes were provided, processed from raw materials furnished by UNICEF. More than 8 million children were vaccinated against tuberculosis and aid was provided for various other types of health programmed. Milk collection facilities, dairies and milk processing plants had been destroyed or had deteriorated during the war, some were rebuilt and
new ones established with UNICEF assistance as part of the countries’ plans to provide milk for children on a continuing basis.

Outside Europe, UNICEF began providing aid for health and child feeding, first in China in 1948 and then to other Asian countries. In 1949, UNICEF began extending aid, mainly for BCG anti-tuberculosis vaccinations, to several countries in the Eastern Mediterranean area and North Africa. Aid to Latin America for child feeding and health projects was first approved in 1949. By the end of 1950, UNICEF had spent more than $114 million for assistance. Of this amount, 76 per cent had gone to Europe, 11 per cent to Asia, 10 per cent to the Eastern Mediterranean area, and 3 per cent to Latin America.

While UN Member States had not intended to prolong UNICEF’s life beyond the postwar emergency, they did include in its founding resolution the phrase “for child health purposes generally.” This caveat would later offer UNICEF a permanent role managing large-scale efforts to control and prevent diseases affecting children, and in October of 1953, the General Assembly extended UNICEF’s mandate indefinitely.

Mass Disease Campaigns
The organization's efforts quickly grew beyond short-term relief for the 'loud emergencies' of armed conflict and natural disasters to long-term survival and development programmes for the 'silent emergencies' of malnutrition, deadly diseases, and eventually the AIDS pandemic, gender inequality and child abuse, including child trafficking, child labour and child soldiers.

This shift first occurred in the early 1950’s when UNICEF-assisted health and nutrition projects began to be related to long-term needs and especially the mass campaigns against endemic diseases largely affecting children, tuberculosis, yaws, leprosy, trachoma and malaria. These campaigns were among the first, and certainly the most spectacular, extensions of war-related international assistance to development concerns. While hugely successful, including the eventual eradication of smallpox, not all the disease campaigns could succeed based on technical advances alone: many people, and certainly mosquitoes, do not stay in one place for significant periods of time, both population and insect migration made malaria and to a smaller degree, polio, impossible to completely eradicate.

Goodwill Ambassadors
During the early years of UNICEF’s existence, raising funds and awareness of children’s plight was of paramount importance. Many talented individuals were drawn to UNICEF’s cause at that time, Danny Kaye, a famous US actor and comedian, was possibly the best known of these early advocates. Danny’s recruitment was the result of a chance encounter with then Executive Director Maurice Pate aboard a flight from London to New York. The plane caught fire in mid-Atlantic and, in the hours while it made its way back to Ireland for repairs, Maurice Pate spoke to Danny Kaye about UNICEF whereupon Danny Kaye volunteered to work for UNICEF and became UNICEF’s “Ambassador-at-Large”, traveling around the world. He made a 20-minute documentary film, “Assignment Children”, that was seen by more than 100 million people making UNICEF a household name worldwide.

Sir Peter Ustinov, Liv Ullmann and Audrey Hepburn followed in his footsteps. Other distinguished artists have continued to contribute their talent and time to the organization. 
Current Goodwill Ambassadors.

Declaration of the Rights of the Child

In 1959, the United Nations General Assembly. responding to urging by the International Union for Child Welfare, adopted a Declaration of the Rights of the Child which affirmed in its preamble that “mankind owes the child the best it has to give.” Its predecessors were a 1923 Declaration of the International Union for Child Welfare and a 1924 Geneva Declaration adopted by the League of Nations.

Among the principles in the 1959 Declaration, which included, directly or indirectly, all the earlier provisions, were that the child should grow and develop in health and have the right to adequate nutrition, housing, recreation, medical services, education, and moral and material security. The Declaration stated that “The child shall in all circumstances be among the first to receive protection and relief."


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