UNICEF Is Established Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

UNICEF was created to meet the basic needs of children around the world and to foster maternal and child development. As a result of funds raised by and spent in conjunction with UNICEF’s programs, millions of lives have been saved and hundreds of millions of lives have been improved by medical, educational, and nutritional initiatives.

Summary of Event

The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) was created in 1946 by the United Nations as an emergency measure to cope with the consequences of the premature termination of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA). The latter was created in October, 1943, to undertake relief work as Allied armies liberated Axis-occupied territories at the end of World War II. The UNRRA did much good work toward accomplishing its monumental task, but a number of flaws hurt the organization, not the least of which was its poor image in the U.S. Congress. The UNRRA was abruptly terminated in 1946, when the reconstruction of Europe was far from complete. Most of its work on behalf of displaced persons was taken over by the newly established International Refugee Organization International Refugee Organization (IRO). UNICEF United Nations;children Health policy;international Children;aid to [kw]UNICEF Is Established (Dec. 11, 1946) UNICEF United Nations;children Health policy;international Children;aid to [g]North America;Dec. 11, 1946: UNICEF Is Established[01910] [g]United States;Dec. 11, 1946: UNICEF Is Established[01910] [c]United Nations;Dec. 11, 1946: UNICEF Is Established[01910] [c]Organizations and institutions;Dec. 11, 1946: UNICEF Is Established[01910] La Guardia, Fiorello Henry Lie, Trygve Pate, Maurice

The U.S. Committee for UNICEF presents a report on the organization’s activities in the Oval Office in November, 1949. From left: Undersecretary of State James Webb, Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson, President Harry S. Truman, committee chair Mary Lord, UNICEF delegate Katharine Lenroot, and Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of State for Economic Affairs Dallas Dort.


The IRO, perceived as being only a temporary body, was given a five-year tenure to resettle displaced persons. Refugees;World War II[World War 02] This task was complicated by the fact that the winter of 1946-1947 was one of the worst experienced in modern Europe. On December 11, 1946, the U.N. General Assembly responded to the crisis caused by this harsh winter—especially as it affected children—and created, by unanimous decision, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, with a life of three years. The new organization had the good fortune of recruiting as its first executive director Maurice Pate, a person with enormous talent, drive, and dedication to its humanitarian mission, who proceeded to assemble a staff equally committed to the task.

The results were little short of spectacular. UNICEF focused initially on Europe, where an estimated twenty million children were in jeopardy in fourteen countries, and launched a relief operation of vast proportions, providing food, medicine, clothing, and other desperately needed supplies. By 1950, European reconstruction and recovery were well under way, and UNICEF’s relief program reached completion. Elsewhere in the world, though, an even larger number of children were in dire straits. With decolonization, many nations became independent and, in many respects, were set adrift, with millions of children in a state of utter destitution. In December, 1950, the U.N. General Assembly extended UNICEF’s life for another three years and gave it the mandate to shift its emphasis from emergency assistance to long-term child development programs in underdeveloped countries. This was a challenge incomparably more difficult than that found in Europe.

By 1953, it was clear that, with growing decolonization and more new nations joining the ranks of the underdeveloped, the problem of child welfare in such nations was bound to escalate. The U.N. General Assembly therefore made UNICEF a permanent agency of the United Nations and changed the organization’s name to the United Nations Children’s Fund. However, the original acronym, which by then had become world-famous, was retained.

UNICEF enjoys a semiautonomous status within the United Nations. It is governed by its own executive board of forty-one nations, selected in rotation for three-year terms from the U.N. membership. This board meets annually to determine UNICEF’s program and allocate available funds. It has its own staff, part of which works at the U.N. headquarters in New York City. The larger part of this staff is deployed among UNICEF’s more than 110 regional and field offices around the world. The organization is headed by its executive director, who is appointed by the U.N. secretary-general.

Throughout UNICEF’s history, the executive director has played a strong leadership role and has been responsible for the quality of the agency’s contribution. Maurice Pate, the first executive director of UNICEF, served for nineteen years and died in office in January, 1965. He and succeeding directors have imparted to the UNICEF staff their high standards of integrity and service.

UNICEF’s activities are funded exclusively by voluntary contributions, which come primarily from U.N. member countries. UNICEF also raises funds from the private sector. An important source of revenue is the sale of greeting cards. National committees for UNICEF have been organized in many countries. These are private volunteer organizations established to help UNICEF and make it better known. Many celebrities have contributed their talents to UNICEF and the national committees. Entertainer Danny Kaye provided perhaps the foremost example of this dedicated support. Other UNICEF goodwill ambassadors have included Peter Ustinov, Liv Ullmann, Harry Belafonte, Audrey Hepburn, and Jane Curtin.

The publicity provided by national committees is an important factor in the widespread popular support enjoyed by UNICEF. Governments impressed by such support are more inclined to work with UNICEF and help it financially. UNICEF has circumvented the perennial inadequacy of its budget by endeavoring to make local residents practice self-help and by insisting that local governments, even in the most destitute countries, devote a larger portion of their resources to the well-being of their countries’ children. (When confronted with the task of achieving development, governments are easily tempted to build roads, power plants, or modern industry rather than provide better medical care or primary education for children.)

For every $1 spent by UNICEF, local governments contribute more than $2.50. UNICEF has been very effective in enlisting the assistance of volunteers in recipient countries and in acquiring the invaluable support of nongovernmental organizations, whose skills, labor, and knowledge of local situations are potent sources of success in implementing programs and ensuring that assistance reaches the people who need it most. Furthermore, UNICEF works closely with other U.N. agencies such as the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Development Program, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and the World Bank. These agencies, in fact, use some of their own resources to implement UNICEF-initiated activities.

High on UNICEF’s agenda is mother and child health, one of the organization’s prime concerns from the time of its inception. It has founded numerous health centers to provide maternal and child health services and teach the elementary rules of hygiene. UNICEF has also undertaken an effort to curb maternal mortality. The organization also helps women by providing prenatal care, strengthening women’s social roles, and providing better access to education. In cooperation with the World Health Organization, UNICEF undertook a staggering campaign of universal immunization against preventable childhood diseases such as diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, polio, tuberculosis, and measles, the largest child-killer. Another extremely effective campaign focused on controlling diarrheal diseases, an important cause of infant mortality, by means of a simple, inexpensive, and effective oral rehydration procedure.

Hunger and malnutrition are even more challenging problems. They are rooted in economic underdevelopment and poverty, often accompanied by ignorance. UNICEF has instituted infant-growth monitoring programs to detect early signs of malnutrition, and it has promoted breast-feeding to reduce infant mortality related to the improper use of infant formulas.

Beyond health and nutrition, then, UNICEF is involved in numerous programs. An estimated one hundred million children in the developing world receive no schooling of any kind. In cooperation with UNESCO, UNICEF is therefore promoting and supporting access to basic education. UNICEF also attends to the needs of homeless and abandoned children and provides emergency relief and rehabilitation to young victims of disasters. In this connection, UNICEF serves as a standing member of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee of the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which attempts to coordinate the emergency relief activities of UNICEF and other U.N. agencies involved in the provision of humanitarian aid.


The creation of UNICEF made an important contribution to the international protection of children. By means of effective fieldwork, consciousness-raising, education, and substantial fund-raising activities to finance its social-justice work, UNICEF has saved millions of lives and considerably improved the living conditions of even larger numbers of children and their families. It is now an essential factor of social development. In 1965, UNICEF was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. This award was hailed as well-deserved recognition for the organization’s remarkable accomplishments. UNICEF has succeeded in keeping the cause of children at the center of global consciousness. The strength of public support for its programs and the effectiveness of its child survival strategies have led many countries and private donors to increase their voluntary contributions. UNICEF United Nations;children Health policy;international Children;aid to

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Beigbeder, Yves. New Challenges for UNICEF: Children, Women, and Human Rights. New York: Palgrave, 2001. An evaluation of twenty-first century challenges for UNICEF. Bibliographic references and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bennett, A. LeRoy. International Organizations: Principles and Issues. 6th ed. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1995. Chapter 14, “Promoting Social Progress,” introduces UNICEF and the many U.N. agencies with which it works. Other chapters explain the U.N. context within which UNICEF operates and the politics involved. Very useful to supplement materials exclusively focused on UNICEF. Provides bibliographies.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">“The Best Mankind Has to Give.” UN Chronicle (September, 1989): 40-51. Reviews developments in the thirty years since the Declaration on the Rights of the Child was proclaimed by the U.N. General Assembly. Discusses UNICEF’s efforts in implementing this declaration and developments in UNICEF strategy. Outlines the grave problems still facing children.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Black, Maggie. The Children and the Nations. New York: UNICEF, 1986. Chronicles UNICEF’s story in the context of social development and international cooperation. Very informative. Shows the widespread impact of UNICEF. Prepared on the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of UNICEF.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jones, Phillip W., with David Coleman. The United Nations and Education: Multilateralism, Development, and Globalisation. New York: RoutledgeFalmer, 2005. Includes a chapter on UNICEF’s role in the United Nations’ global education programs. Bibliographic references and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Labouisse, Henry R. “For the World’s Children: UNICEF at 25.” UN Chronicle 8 (April, 1971): 48-60. Excellent survey by the dedicated and effective second executive director of the organization. Reviews UNICEF’s accomplishments and examines the challenges of the years to come. Contains much useful information about UNICEF.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Weiss, Thomas George. International Bureaucracy: An Analysis of the Operation of Functional and Global International Secretariats. Lexington, Mass.: Lexington Books, 1975. Discusses the functioning of the secretariats of international organizations, the problems encountered, and remedies available. Chapter 5 presents a case study, focused on UNICEF, showing the excellent performance of its staff. Includes a thorough bibliography on international administration.

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Categories: History