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UNICEF Milestones

UNICEF Milestones by Year provides significant moments in the efforts to promote maternal and child well-being for 60 years.

Thematic Overview provides content-based historical analysis.

UNICEF at 40, for an overview of UNICEF's first 40 years.
1946-2006 Sixty Years for Children, for an overview of UNICEF's first 60 years. UNICEF at 60: A brief look back, and ahead provides video and photo essays.


On December 11, 1946, the International Children's Emergency Fund was founded in the aftermath of World War II to bring "some milk and some fat, on bread"  to millions of children victimized by war. Its assistance was to be given on the “basis of need without discrimination because of race, creed, nationality, status, or political belief” — a policy which has been the bedrock of UNICEF's programmes in providing aid to children everywhere without regard to politics.

Maurice Pate agreed to become UNICEF’s Executive Director only on condition that the new agency would be able to help children of “ex-enemy countries.” Directing UNICEF’s work for 18 years, he had a deep commitment to bettering the lives of children, a responsibility he regarded as “service to humanity.” The staff Pate brought into UNICEF, the Board members who shaped the basic policies of UNICEF during its early crucial years, and dedicated supporters in many countries, were all basically inspired by the same beliefs as UNICEF’s founders and Maurice Pate: there was a need for human values to predominate in international cooperation; UNICEF’s work in behalf of children was an important way of helping create an atmosphere of international solidarity transcending political and ideological boundaries.

UN Secretary-General U Thant eloquently reaffirmed UNICEF's mission in his 1971 statement “UNICEF has been one of the most moving examples of human solidarity at the individual level arising directly from the sufferings of war....Reflecting on UNICEF’s accomplishments of the past quarter of a century brings to mind the Preamble of the United Nations Charter and the way in which UNICEF aid has given life and meaning to the Charter’s mandate ‘to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war’, and ‘to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom’....In offering its aid to all children, without regard to their colour...UNICEF has demonstrated to the world that the highest aspirations of mankind embodied in the United Nations Charter can, indeed, be fulfilled in a practical way.”

Entirely funded by voluntary contributions, for 60 years UNICEF's efforts on behalf of the world's most vulnerable — children and their mothers — has expanded rapidly. The organization's mandate has grown 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 disease, the AIDS pandemic, gender inequality and child abuse including child trafficking, child labour and child soldiers.

To further ensure the basic rights of every child, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, after years of negotiation, was finally drawn up in 1989, and is the first legally binding international instrument to incorporate the full range of human rights — civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights. It is the most widely and rapidly ratified human rights treaty in history, now signed by a total of over 190 nations.

Since the turn of the millennium, the health, welfare and protection of women and children has become a top priority for the international community and national governments and is enshrined in the Millennium Development Goals for 2015. UNICEF, in partnership with UN Agencies, NGOs and the private sector is focusing all efforts to achieve the MDGs. At the same time, global emergencies continue to increase in magnitude and complexity, requiring the entire world's support and attention, and integrated cooperation has become the driving force behind all current humanitarian aid for both the 'loud' and 'silent' emergencies.

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