LEARN ABOUT UNICEF'S HISTORY  UNICEF works in 190 countries and territories to protect the rights of every child. UNICEF has spent 70 years working to improve the lives of children and their families. Defending children's rights throughout their lives requires a global presence, aiming to produce results and understand their effects.

Emergency Relief for Children after WWII
Food, Medicine and Clothes

Established at the first ever United Nations General Assembly on December 11, 1946 and originally known as the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF). UNICEF was to provide short term emergency relief after the war specifically, milk rations, vitamins and cod-liver oil. This prevented the mas starvation in Europe.

Throughout the intervening years, the UN Children's Fund has employed three approaches in discharging its mandate.*For the postwar period 1946 to 1950, the "emergency needs approach" meant swift action to meet the food, clothing, and health needs of children, particularly in Europe. At an expenditure of $112,000,000, UNICEF distributed various articles of clothing to five million children in twelve countries, vaccinated eight million against tuberculosis, rebuilt milk processing and distribution facilities, and, at the climax of its effort in Europe, provided a daily supplementary meal to more than 6 million children. It was referred to as the "milkman of the world".

Audrey Hepburn was one of those children.

One of the founding tenets of UNICEF's work was that all children were to receive its aid, without discrimination due to race, creed, nationality, status or political belief.

In 1947 the first national committee for UNICEF was formed in the US

As children around the globe were affected by the war, within five years UNICEF had established itself in almost 100 countries.

By 1948 the first mass disease control programme started, with mass vaccinations to prevent the spread of tuberculosis. Soon diseases like leprosy, and malaria were also included. Maternal health and childbirth programmes followed.


An Emergency Agency for Children is Born
Health, Sanitation, and Welfare

There was a lot of controversy around UNICEF continuing its work after the emergency, but it was apparent that the need was there and that silent emergencies were happening everywhere. In 1953 UNICEF's mandate in the UN became permanent. In so doing they dropped the words "International" and "Emergency" from the name.

During the period 1951-1960, UNICEF continued to meet emergency needs, but at the same time moved into the long-range benefit approach. To protect the health of children, UNICEF conducted campaigns against tuberculosis, yaws, leprosy, and malaria; made provisions for environmental sanitation; encouraged maternal and child health care education. To raise nutritional standards for children, UNICEF helped countries produce and distribute low-cost, high-protein foods and fostered programs to educate people in their use. To provide for the social welfare of children, UNICEF instituted informal training of mothers in child rearing and home improvement, aided services for children through day-care and neighbourhood centres, family counselling, and youth clubs. The expenditures totalled $150,000,000.

By 1955, 11 National committees were in operation and UNICEF was working in 92 countries with 61 governments contributing annually to UNICEF.

From Emergencies
to Children's Needs
Public Fundraising and National Committees
Funding, Expansion and the Public 

In the 1950s and 60's, with UNICEF's work expanding to meet the needs of so many children, it became necessary to raise funds from the public as well as governments. National Committees like UNICEF Ireland (1960) were set up to assist in raising the necessary funds to meet the needs of children around the world. 


The picture above is of a painting by seven-year-old Jitka Samkova of Czechoslovakia. It shows five girls dancing around a maypole. The word 'UNICEF' appears in the upper-left corner, a sun is in the sky and a small house is in the distance.


The painting was reproduced on the first official UNICEF greeting card.

From 'The Children and the Nations' by Maggie Black (©UNICEF, 1986), p. 68: "The story of how the greeting cards began is part of Unicef folklore. The first design was a picture of a maypole painted on glass by a seven-year-old Czechoslovakian girl. Dzitka and her classmates were regular drinkers of Unicef milk, and the paintings they produced were a 'thank-you', sent off to Unicef's bureau in Prague by their teacher. From there, the glass picture of children dancing round the maypole went to Vienna, where one of [UNICEF Executive Director Maurice] Pate's bright young women — Grace Holmes Barbey, sent out on an information gathering mission — wrapped it up and took it back to New York. In October 1949, small numbers of a card using Dzitka's design were produced as a modest fund-raiser." Sales of the card reached 10 million.

UNICEF continues to rely on public donations in order to meet the growing needs of children, both in emergencies and as part of our role in ensuring children's rights are realised for all children, everywhere. 

From Needs to Development
Education, Skills and Social Change

The 1960s and 70s saw a change in what UNICEF wanted to achieve. They began to see that if real change for children and their communities was going to happen, they had to do more than just meet children's basic needs. Consequently, they began to invest in the intellectual, psychological, and vocational needs of children as well as with their physical needs. UNICEF provided assistance for teacher education and curriculum reform, allocated funds for pre- vocational training in usable skills, promoted information on the uses of technology. They invested in every aspect of the child's life, seeing this as the best way to achieve economic and social change. By 1965 UNICEF was spending 43% of its budget on education. In this decade UNICEF's total expenditures were in excess of $300,000,000.

Watch UNICEF Through the Decades
The founding of
Full interview of RTÉ Radio Archive UNICEF Jubilee (1971) 

UNICEF Ireland wants to support you to start a global movement for change beginning in our own communities. Stay connected online with other activists like you. 


If you would like more information, getting involved or posting a blog about your activism, please email us at itsaboutus@unicef.ie

Thanks to our Supporters

Irish Aid for supporting youth activism within UNICEF Ireland.