A better world after World War II

In 1946, with millions of displaced and refugee children deprived of shelter, food and fuel, UNICEF was born.

A smiling boy carries six loaves of bread. Poland, 1945.
© UNICEF/UNI41886/Vachon

“We lived in Stuttgart, and my sister was very ill. At this time, the bombing had ended but our house was reduced to rubble, just wood and bricks. I remember part of a wall and a section of roof had stayed upright, forming a kind of lean-to and that’s where we slept, out of the rain.

I was the man of the house – 12 years old – because my father had been killed long before the war ended.

I have no memory of food or what we ate but I do recall using a piece of a broken bowl to scoop up water from a puddle in the street. And that’s what we would drink, my mother and sister and I. If it weren’t for the people of UNICEF, I don’t think I would be here today.”   


UNICEF - 70 years of protecting children

World War II ravaged the people of Europe, and none so dramatically as its children, who faced new threats in the form of famine and disease. To provide relief, the General Assembly of the United Nations announced the creation of the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) in December 1946.  Since that first program 70 years ago - providing food, clothing and health care to the world’s most vulnerable people - a journey began that continues today.    


Responding to crisis

The effects of crisis are always amplified for children.

Natural disasters, conflict, famine and disease pose the greatest threat to the most fragile.

UNICEF was created in response to crisis and we have never stopped responding to emergencies, and trying to build better recovery.      

Young Yugoslav refugees play together in Suez. Egypt, 1947.

© UNICEF/UNI43135/Unknown

Young Yugoslav refugees play together in Suez. Egypt, 1947.

See a historical timeline of UNICEF’s origins, and learn about our mandate immediate after World War II.

Explore the 1946-1979 timeline

An ounce of prevention…

UNICEF’s vision of contributing to child welfare has always gone beyond providing aid after an emergency has struck. We’ve also aimed to help improve the overall long-term health of the world’s most disadvantaged children before disaster puts them to the test. For example, immunization, education and other preventive programs introduced by UNICEF over the years have slashed infant and child mortality rates.


Health starts with nutrition

Providing nutrition to war-ravaged children was one of UNICEF’s first challenges, earning us the moniker ‘milkman to the world’. Since then UNICEF has leveraged the connection between nutrition and health to improve the long-term development of children around the world by providing everything from supplements to education to therapeutic foods.    

Young Chinese refugees eat together at a UNICEF-supported school. China, 1992.

© UNICEF/UNI38355/LeMoyne

Young Chinese refugees eat together at a UNICEF-supported school. China, 1992.

See how UNICEF’s focus on overall nutrition and health established new ways of viewing child survival and development.

Explore the 1980-1988 timeline


Water means life

In 1953, UNICEF’s work widened to include providing water, sanitation and hygiene to the world’s most vulnerable children and their families. Our goal is to secure universal access to clean water and safe sanitation. Thanks to innumerable design and technology innovations, the number of people using improved water sources rose to 91% by 2015.  


Education is an investment

From its earliest days as a relief agency, UNICEF provided immediate solutions to the challenges affecting the world’s children, and created lasting changes by addressing their underlying causes. A powerful example of this came when we began to support formal and non-formal education initiatives.  

A young girl in Jalalabad writes on the chalkboard of a UNICEF-sponsored school. Afghanistan, 2000.

© UNICEF/UNI120959/LeMoyne

A young girl in Jalalabad writes on the chalkboard of a UNICEF-sponsored school. Afghanistan, 2000.

See how highlighting the inherent rights of children helped UNICEF create change for the world’s most-vulnerable.

Explore the 1989-2005 timeline


Protecting children from HIV and AIDS

From the earliest days of the crisis, UNICEF identified children as the missing face of the AIDS epidemic. Together with partners, we have championed programmes for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission and worked to make education, testing, medicine and other support available to children in countries most affected by HIV and AIDS.  


A shield against violence and abuse

Growing from our early days fighting hunger and disease, UNICEF also works to shield children from violence, abuse, exploitation and harm. Today our work ranges from the field to legislative assemblies, to prevent and respond to child sexual trafficking, infanticide, the use of child labour, child soldiers and other young victims of armed conflict around the world.  

A young mother and her daughter head to class in El Salvador. El Salvador, 2014.

© UNICEF/UNI186306/Heger

A young mother and her daughter head to class in El Salvador. El Salvador, 2014.

Discover how UNICEF has emphasized protecting the rights of every child, everywhere.

Explore the 2006-2015 timeline


Working for the rights of every child

For 70 years, UNICEF has been dedicated to establishing and protecting the rights of every child.

While enormous progress has been made, including with governments who now consider the well-being of children in their evolving social policies, there is much still to do.

Some children are still more disadvantaged than others, and reaching those excluded children keeps pushing UNICEF forward.  

Looking back, looking forward

Since its very beginning, UNICEF has come to the aid of children who have been victimized by violence and conflict. From the rubble of places like Stuttgart in the aftermath of World War II, to the global migrant and refugee crisis that affects millions today, UNICEF is working harder than ever to ensure that every child’s rights are protected, and that every child is given a fair chance in life.    

Explore the full range of UNICEF’s history on behalf of children, through our historical timelines.