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UNICEF History

Milestones: 1946-1955




In December 1946 the United Nations General Assembly unanimously establishes an International Children’s Emergency Fund, to mount urgent relief programmes for children and adolescents in war-ravaged countries and for “child health purposes generally”. Aid is to be distributed without discrimination due to race, creed, nationality, status or political belief.

The Fund has semi-autonomous status in the United Nations, its own governing body (25 governments, later increased to 30), and its own secretariat. Maurice Pate is appointed Executive Director.


First substantial government contributions are received (from the United States and Canada).

A supplementary feeding programme is approved for children and nursing and pregnant mothers in 13 European countries.

First private contribution is received.

First National Committee for UNICEF is formed (U.S.).


UNICEF aid is provided for the first time to refugee mothers and children in Asia and Palestine.

First mass disease-control programme is started: UNICEF joins Scandinavian Red Cross Societies in anti-tuberculosis mass vaccinations (a campaign which will have tested 155 million children and vaccinated 60 million by 1955).

UNICEF Board requests Executive Director to prepare a study on continuing needs of children in many parts of the world for long-term programmes in child nutrition, health and welfare.


UNICEF aid for Latin America is approved for first time.

Sale of UNICEF greeting cards begins (first card is a “Thank You” drawing by a child UNICEF assisted in Czechoslovakia).


Some six million children are receiving daily supplementary meals by mid-1950; several million are receiving clothing and shoes processed from cotton, wool and leather supplied by UNICEF.

Contributions during the year total $15.3 million – over 70 per cent from 47 governments; over 20 per cent from residual assets of UNRRA; the rest ($1.3 million) from private contributors, mainly the United Nations Appeal for Children Campaign in 75 countries and territories.

The UN General Assembly expands the limited mandate of UNICEF to meet “emergency and long-range needs of children and their continuing needs particularly in under-developed countries”. With European recovery, some countries feel UNICEF's job is over. But poorer nations argue that the UN cannot ignore children threatened by hunger and disease in their countries.


UNICEF Executive Board decides Fund will concentrate on maternal and child welfare services, training of child care personnel, campaign to fight diseases affecting children (especially tuberculosis, malaria, trachoma and yaws), and child nutrition.

The Fund also continues to respond to requests for emergency relief of children in disasters (droughts, floods, earthquakes). Board agrees on criteria for assessing needs of different areas and countries.


UNICEF assistance in Africa south of the Sahara begins.

NGO Committee on UNICEF (growing out of an advisory group of non-governmental organizations established in 1949) is granted consultative status with UNICEF’s Executive Board.

More than 1 million greeting cards sold.


UNICEF begins aid for environmental sanitation projects to prevent childhood sickness and deaths and large-scale leprosy control measures.

In October, the General Assembly decides to continue UNICEF’s mandate on a permanent basis, reaffirming the broader terms of reference established for the Fund in 1950. The words “International” and “Emergency” are dropped from the official name, which now becomes the United Nations Children’s Fund, but the original acronym UNICEF is by now too well-known to drop.

Trials having proved that yaws – a hideous disease affecting millions of children – could be cured with one shot of penicillin, UNICEF helps launch a campaign to identify and cure 10 million cases of yaws in Indonesia, Thailand, Haiti, the Philippines and elsewhere.


To encourage longer-term planning, the UNICEF Executive Board decides to make commitments to projects for several years, instead of only for one
year at a time. It adopts a policy of paying stipends for trainees and instructors; this opens the way for expension of aid to training schemes in developing countries.

The popular American comedian and motion picture star Danny Kaye volunteers to work for UNICEF and becomes "Ambassador-at-Large", travelling around the world. He makes a 20-minute documentary film, "Assignment Children", about Unicef s work in Asia, seen by more than 100 million people.


UNICEF is now assisting projects in 92 countries and territories; 61 governments are contributing annually to UNICEF (up from 30 in 1950).

UNICEF joins WHO in world-wide campaign to eradicate malaria, a leading child killer.

Eleven National Committees for UNICEF are now in operation.

1946-1955 |
1956-1965 | 1966-1975 
1976-1985 | 1986-1995



History in multimedia

The following multimedia website on UNICEF’s history was released for the organization’s 60th Anniversary. Each segment includes an illustrated timeline, posters and stamps, and video interviews about developments in the given period. Some include music and coins as well.

1946-1959 | 1960-1979
1980-1989 | 1990-1999

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