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70 years of UNICEF's work has left the world a better place


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The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) came into existence after a truly grueling time in history.

Set up on 11 December 1946 by the UN General Assembly, it was a direct product of the world desperately trying to pick itself up after its worst conflict yet.

The main goal of the organisation was to offer relief for children directly affected by World War II. After the war, European children faced famine and disease, and the organisation was there to provide food, clothing and healthcare to the best of its ability.

Its aims soon expanded to helping children at risk in developing countries.

In 1953 it became a permanent part of the UN. Only a year later, the movie star Danny Kaye became UNICEF’s “Ambassador at large”. His film ‘Assignment Children’, about its work in Asia, was seen by more than 100 million people.

Such ambassadors have become the backbone of UNICEF’s publicity. Many celebrities, like David Beckham, Orlando Bloom and even Audrey Hepburn, choose to use their popularity to spread the message of the organisation.

But the organisation that started out 70 years ago isn’t the same as the one we know and love.

At first its work was mostly based around providing safety and basic needs like food and clean water. But in 1959, that focus changed with the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, a law that defines children’s rights.

After more than a decade of focusing on child health issues, UNICEF expanded its interests to address the needs of the whole child. A new concern with education, especially in newly independent countries, arose.

For its continuous work towards bettering communities and for “the promotion of brotherhood between nations”, UNICEF was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1965 and the Prince of Asturias Award of Concord in 2006.

Another big part of UNICEF’s work is its data collection.

Landmark studies and reports have been made on the state of people and children in particular.

In 1987 the landmark study “Adjustment with a Human Face” looked at how to help children and women in poor countries and how to protect them from economic reforms with a bad effect.

In 1996 UNICEF supported the Machel Report - “The Impact of Armed Conflict on Children” - that looked into the consequences of war on children’s lives and psyches.

UNICEF is now more than 7,000 people strong, stationed in 157 countries all over the globe. 

Over the years the work UNICEF has done has been invaluable and tangible. So why do we still need it? Its mission, as well as the mission of every good human being, is not done yet.

The problems that children in developing countries face range from malnourishment, to lack of clean water, to extremely harsh juvenile justice. Many unwanted children face horrible orphan systems, or are involved in child labour. Wars continue to shorten lives and many children still serve as soldiers.

But the beauty of data collection is that it’s the first step of treating a problem. It is by acknowledging a problem that we can further work towards fixing it.

Although there have been doubts over its effectiveness and although the world has failed to meet the goals UNICEF itself has put together, the world is a better place with this organisation in it.

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