United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), a semiautonomous agency of the United Nations established by the General Assembly on Dec. 11, 1946. Originally called the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund, it was created to provide emergency supplies of food, clothing, and medicine to youngsters in war-ravaged Europe. Once this task was completed, UNICEF began devising long-range programs to combat disease, malnutrition, and illiteracy among children. UNICEF became a permanent agency in 1953, and the words "International" and "Emergency" were dropped from its name. Today, UNICEF's primary concern is helping governments of developing countries improve the quality of life for nearly a billion children.
An executive board of representatives from 30 nations, elected for three-year terms by the Economic and Social Council, is responsible for establishing policy guidelines and reviewing UNICEF programs. The executive director, appointed by the UN secretary-general, supervises a staff of 1,400 at UNICEF headquarters in New York City and at some 40 field offices around the world. UNICEF has programs in more than 100 countries, many in conjunction with other UN or voluntary agencies.
In 1976, UNICEF adopted a basic-services strategy for the Third World to extend community-based services in the fields of maternal and child health, applied nutrition, environmental sanitation, education, and social-welfare services, including day-care programs. Host governments supply matching funds, personnel, and facilities for these projects, while UNICEF provides assistance in the planning and design of services, training of local personnel, and the delivery of special equipment and supplies.
One fourth of UNICEF's resources are devoted to meeting immediate emergencies arising from natural disasters, political unrest, or epidemics. While usually not the lead agency in these situations, UNICEF has served in this capacity, for example, in directing Kampuchean relief operations. Emergency assistance is followed by UNICEF participation in long-range rehabilitation.
UNICEF also serves as a children's advocate. The General Assembly gave UNICEF responsibility for implementing the 1959 Declaration of the Rights of the Child, and in 1979 it was the lead agency in coordinating UN activities for the International Year of the Child. UNICEF was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1965 for promoting international brotherhood.
Three fourths of UNICEF's revenues come from voluntary pledges by national governments. The rest is from private contributions, the sale of greeting cards, and fund-raising activities.
William A. Hazleton,
Miami University, Ohio