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UNICEF History

Milestones: 1976-1985




Economic crisis in many countries prompts new thinking about children's services. UNICEF elaborates a new strategy to help mobilize resources at the community level in the fields of health, nutrition, education, and women's advancement.

Economic and Social Council recommends that the General Assembly proclaim 1979 as the “International Year of the Child”.

More than 100 non-governmental organizations now have consultative status with UNICEF. The Executive Board reviews ways in which UNICEF and the 30 National Committees for UNICEF can cooperate more effectively to serve children of developing countries.


Executive Board decides that aid for education should continue to be mainly for qualitative improvements in primary schooling and for non-formal education, especially as eventual components in basic services. Board agrees to expand aid which helps countries build up their national capacities in services benefiting children.

Board agrees that co-operation in expanded immunization programmes should be a main UNICEF priority with provisions of vaccines, drugs and other materials continuing sufficiently long to have a lasting impact; and reaffirms its conviction that UNICEF should continue to derive its revenues entirely from voluntary contributions, with the mainstay being contributions from governments for general resources. Board also reaffirms the importance of special purpose contributions and of contributions from the general public.


Board increases flexibility of aid to benefit children in the least developed and other low income countries, and sends a message to the tenth special session of the General Assembly, devoted to disarmament, with an appeal that a portion of the savings from a reduction in armaments be used to meet the minimum requirements of children.

The Alma Ata Conference on Health for All (WHO/UNICEF) promotes a holistic concept of primary health care with prioritization of community-based approaches. (See also the Alma Ata conference report and Declaration.)

A working group is established by the United Nations General Assembly within the Human Rights Commission to draft the Convention on the Rights of the Child. UNICEF helps facilitate NGO input and influences the inclusion of survival and development rights in addition to protection rights.

UNICEF revenue is $211 million, exceeding a previously set $200 million target.


Observance of the International Year of the Child generates greatly expanded concern with the problems of children and much new activity. There is also a growing recognition among governments of the need for a regular review of the situation of children and of the policies and programmes affecting them.

Board approves for the first time a rolling medium-term work plan (for the period 1978-1982) which is intended to achieve firmer long-term planning of UNICEF’s work.

Board approves recommendations by the UNICEF/WHO Joint Committee on Health Policy which set forth a number of specific ways for more support by UNICEF for primary health care (including expanded programmes on immunization, provision of essential drugs and control of diarrhoeal disease); drinking water in rural and certain types of urban areas and for environmental sanitation.

Designated as the UN’s lead agency on account of its non-political status, UNICEF plays a key role in a $634 million joint UN/Red Cross relief operation for crisis-hit Cambodia.


On 1 January, James Grant succeeds Henry Labouisse as Executive Director.

At its regular session in May, the Board decides that UNICEF’s follow-up of the International Year of the Child should be integrated with the organization’s ongoing work, promoting a wider global perspective regarding all children and involving more extensive co-operation in developing countries in policies and services related to child development, complementing those directed to the physical well-being of children.

Executive Board endorses UNICEF/WHO joint efforts to develop an international code of marketing infant formula products.

Income in 1980 is estimated at $311 million, including $61 million for relief in Cambodia. UNICEF aid is now going to 110 countries and territories, including new programmes in China and Zimbabwe.


UNICEF’s Executive Board increases assistance to nine African nations stricken by drought and civil strife, and agrees that this extra effort continue over the next few years.  At the Secretary-General’s request, UNICEF continues to be the "lead agency" for the United Nations system in the humanitarian relief operation in Cambodia through 1981.

At its regular session in May, the Executive Board agrees that while UNICEF has an important special role to play in emergency relief, this should not be to the detriment of the long-term development work benefiting children which constitutes UNICEF’s primary mandate.

In discussing UNICEF’s co-operation in the International Year of Disabled Persons, the Board sets the highest priority on prevention, including immunization, training for community health workers and midwives, and the education of future mothers.

Alarmed over a decline in breastfeeding, the World Health Assembly in May adopts a WHO and UNICEF sponsored International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes, calling for end of advertising of infant formulas and other promotional practices that might discourage breastfeeding.


In the annual ‘State of the World’s Children Report 1982-83’, UNICEF launches a drive to save the lives of millions of children each year – the Child Survival and Development Revolution. Special emphasis is placed on four low-cost measures: growth monitoring, oral rehydration therapy, promotion of breast-feeding, and immunization. Together these measures are sometimes referred to by the acronym GOBI.

The Executive Board approves a broad-based integrated approach to the problems of urban children through community participation, with special emphasis on childhood malnutrition, the situation of women, pre-school and day-care services, responsible parenthood and family planning, abandoned and disabled children, and the provision of adequate water supply and sanitation.

The Board also approves a five-year initiative under which UNICEF will collaborate with WHO to help reduce hunger and malnutrition among children and mothers (the Joint Nutrition Support Programme - JNSP).

A benefit soccer game for UNICEF is attended by almost 77,000 people and watched on television in more than 60 countries by a viewing audience estimated to total one billion people. The FIFA All-Star Soccer Game at Giants Stadium, New Jersey, in the U.S.A., is played by 36 of the world’s greatest players; honorary captains were Franz Beckenbauer - for “Europe” - and Pele - for “the Rest of the World”.


UNICEF’s strategic plan sets new objectives for the next five years: to promote child survival and reduce infant and child mortality; to help improve the situation and welfare of children; and to help improve the situation and welfare of women, especially mothers and poorer women.

The Executive Board approves the systematic use of the infant mortality rate (IMR) along with, notably, GNP per capita and child population, both to guide content and to fix levels of UNICEF assistance. A wider selection of indicators, including morbidity, maternal death rates, and literacy, are also to be used. In this way UNICEF is able to respond more effectively to the changing pattern of children’s needs in the various countries.

The child survival and development revolution cannot be achieved and sustained without advances in women’s literacy, children’s primary education and a community’s general level of education; the Board endorses the aims of a programme to be undertaken jointly with UNESCO, to foster universal primary education and literacy, beginning with programmes in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Nepal, Nicaragua and Peru.

Recognizing the role of women as key partners in development, UNICEF's support to the development of income-earning skills now involves training in management and marketing, and guidance in how to obtain access to credit.

The Board adopts a resolution making Danny Kaye an Honorary Delegate as a token of “its gratitude and respect for his contributions and leadership as the Number One Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF”. In 1983, Mr. Kaye, whose example has been emulated by others in the public eye as well as inspiring millions of citizen volunteers, completed his thirtieth year with UNICEF as an untiring advocate for children.


With the African drought and famine situation swelling to crisis proportions, the Executive Director launches an international appeal for $50 million (later revised to $67 million) to support actions in 21 affected countries. A major strengthening of UNICEF field offices in Africa is undertaken. UNICEF’s goodwill ambassadors are mobilized: Liv Ullmann visits Africa and draws the attention of the media to the growing crisis in West Africa; Tetsuko Kuroyanagi visits East Africa, which results in widespread attention in Japan to the crisis as well as raising funds.

In Ethiopia UNICEF helps pioneer a cash-for-food community work scheme with far-reaching implications for approaches to emergency relief and rehabilitation in the future.

The UNICEF Executive Board endorses a comprehensive approach to early childhood development that includes attention to the child’s cognitive and psychological development, particularly through early childhood stimulation, as well as health and physical growth.

The global effort to promote oral dehydration therapy (ORT), the most effective treatment for diarrhoeal dehydration in young children, gathers momentum. Along with WHO, UNICEF supports research and development of improved oral dehydration solutions. UNICEF directly provides over 65 million packets of oral dehydration salts, and helps more than 20 countries produce the salts locally.

The ‘Bellagio Conference’ brings together Rockefeller Foundation, UNICEF, WHO, World Bank, and UNDP to discuss major expansion of immunization, fostering the creation of an influential Task Force for Child Survival and Development meeting periodically thereafter to discuss policy and programmes. The Task Force is a major example of successful alliance-building and partnership for children.

Accelerating immunization activity dramatically increases demand for vaccines. UNICEF supplies vaccines worth a total of $7.5 million to some 80 countries. as well as supporting logistical systems, particularly the “cold chain”, which ensure their effectiveness to the point of use.

The Executive Board reappoints James Grant to a second five-year term as Executive Director beginning in 1985.


Launch of a drive for universal child immunization by 1990 with the highest endorsement from the Secretary-General, who appeals to all Heads of State to provide the necessary leadership needed.

The Executive Board reviews UNICEF’s response to women’s concerns, and reaffirms UNICEF’s commitment to strengthening the social, health and economic conditions of women living in poverty. Women’s literacy and education programmes are emphasized both as a means to improve women’s lives and to support child survival and development.

The Italian Government announces a contribution of $100 million to UNICEF in support of child survival measures in almost 30 countries.

A cease fire in El Salvador’s civil war, based on the UNICEF-supported promotion of the concepts of ‘children as a zone of peace’ and ‘periods of tranquility’ for humanitarian assistance, allows for three days of mass immunization of children under the age of five.  This approach was later applied successfully in Lebanon (1987); Sudan (1989); Iraq (1991) and elsewhere with increasing frequency in the 1990s.

The lives of an estimated half million children are saved during the year through the use of oral rehydration therapy.

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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