Childhood, a time of hope and promise, can also be a time of hardship, particularly in developing countries, where the burdens of poverty so often fall heavily on the young.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the only United Nations organization dedicated exclusively to children, works with other United Nations agencies, governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to provide community-based services in primary health care, nutrition, basic education, and safe water and sanitation to the developing world. It aims to reduce the terrible toll the lack of such services takes on the world’s youngest citizens.

Over 12 million children in developing world die each year from largely preventable causes. While simple measures and low-cost therapies are now saving the lives of millions of children, much more remains to be done.


UNICEF was created by the United Nations General Assembly in 1946 to meet the emergency needs of children in the aftermath of World War II in Europe. In October 1953, the organization (then known as the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund) became a permanent part of the United Nations system with a broadened role to respond to the long-term needs of children living in poverty in developing countries. Its name was shortened to the United Nations Children’s Fund, retaining the original acronym, by which it is known to this day.

UNICEF, which since its inception has affirmed the link between progress, peace and children’s well-being, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1965.

In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration….

-Article 3, Convention on the Rights of the Child.



Adopted unanimously by the United Nations General Assembly in 1989, the Convention on the Rights of the Child is a ground-breaking treaty that expands the world’s legal boundaries to embrace and legitimize the needs of children and provides legal and moral-basis for their well-being. The product of many years of study, discussion and negotiation by governments, UNICEF and numerous other organizations, the Convention sets out the rights of all children to healthy and productive rights. It has been ratified by 191 countries (as of June 1997), making it the most widely and most rapidly accepted human rights convention in history. Ratification by only two more countries is needed for the Convention to become the world’s first universally ratified human rights treaty.

Once a country has ratified the Convention, it commits itself to putting the Convention’s provisions into effect, through new or revised measures. Among the measures governments may take is the creation of special government agency for children, or the appointment of a special children’s representative or ‘ombudsman’ to watch over children’s affairs.