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UNICEF History

Milestones: 1986-1995




Nearly 100 developing countries and 400 non-governmental organizations are seriously engaged in efforts to achieve universal child immunization. UNICEF contributes $57 million to immunization activities, 17 per cent of its total programme expenditures. Vaccine distribution increases 24 per cent. Total of doses delivered: 500 million.

Oral rehydration salts global supply increases to nearly six times the amount produced in 1982 and is available to roughly half of the 487 million children under five years of age in the developing world. As a result of universal child immunization and oral rehydration therapy one and a half million children are still alive in December of 1986 who would not have been had these efforts not been underway throughout the year.

UNICEF embraces the use of social mobilization – serious commitment from all sectors of a society – in order to implement and sustain the momentum of the Child Survival and Development Revolution (CSDR).

Sport Aid focuses public concern over the critical situation in Africa.

The UNICEF policy review on "Children in Especially Difficult Circumstances" – initially considering abandoned children, street children, child victims of abuse and neglect, and children in armed conflicts – helps open up discussion of issues relating to child protection.

Programmes in child nutrition encompass 98 countries. Highlights include: helping to expand applied nutrition programmes in 18,300 villages, providing stipends to train 9,000 village-level nutrition workers, and delivering some 15,460 metric tons of donated foods for distribution through nutrition and emergency feeding programmes.

Child health programmes are active in 113 countries. Highlights include: providing grants for training, orientation and refresher courses for 410,900 health workers (doctors, nurses, public health workers, medical assistants, midwives and traditional birth attendants), and providing technical supplies and equipment for 61,500 health centres of various kinds.

Water supply and sanitation programmes encompass 93 countries. Highlights include: completing approximately 83,468 water supply systems, including 71,341 open/dug wells with handpumps, 1,203 piped systems, with 567 motordriven pumps and 10,357 other systems such as spring protection, rain water collection and water treatment plants, benefitting some 18.7 million persons.

UNICEF begins cooperative work with the Ugandan government and WHO to combat HIV and AIDS through education.

UNICEF adopts revised logo of mother and child with lower case acronym.


An estimated two million child deaths are averted this year through the efforts of the Child Survival and Development Revolution (CSDR). The momentum towards the goal of universal child immunization accelerates, with all regions reporting increased levels of activity. Ninety-seven per cent of the children in the developing world live in countries with operational programmes to control diarrhoeal diseases.

In addition to CSDR, UNICEF's work focuses on promoting 'adjustment with a human face'. The landmark report of this name is published this year, standing as an example of knowledge-based advocacy prompting global debate on how to protect children and women from the adverse affects of economic adjustment and reform. Against the background of an economic crisis, studies for the report produce evidence that reductions in national health and education spending have resulted in increased malnutrition and reduced educational levels throughout the 1980s in at least 31 countries. However, the economic difficulties, combined with new opportunities, have given impetus to a variety of national actions to promote growth and protect the poor. Many countries have made efforts to mobilize domestic resources and make more effective use of them to find the optimum balance between private and public sector enterprise; to promote national food production; and to strengthen interregional and South- South co-operation.

The 'Debt Relief for Child Survival' proposal is put forward, calling for converting part of the developing countries' foreign debt to commercial banks and governments into national funds which can be used locally by the debtor governments and UNICEF for CSD programmes.

Efforts are expanded to address issues related to child labour and children in especially difficult circumstances (children living or working on the street, children affected by armed conflict or natural disasters, and abused children).

The "Change for Good" fund-raising campaign is launched -- a successful effort that would continue into the 21st century.


UNICEF proposes the idea of a 'Global Summit for Children' to rally leaders from all points of the geographic, political and economic compass, to a more constructive economic dialogue 'for mutual survival'. Executive Director Jim Grant indicates that governments of the world's nations have moved closer towards codifying, for the first time in history, a set of legal obligations towards children in the form of an international Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF agree to proceed with implementing the Bamako Initiative, as a means of revitalizing primary health services in Africa. The Initiative proposes to help create self-sustaining health services which could be managed and financed by individual communities through charges for basic essential drugs, for consultation or other means as appropriate to their situations.

Although the global ‘debt crisis’ continues to make itself felt, the many positive developments this year include the continued acceleration of the momentum for child survival and development programmes. Low-cost immunization and oral rehydration therapy programmes are expanded. UNICEF continues  its promotion of ‘adjustment with a human face’ as the IMF backs up UNICEF'S position with the statement that "adjustment does not have to lower basic human standards."

UNICEF's International Child Development Centre (later known as the Innocenti Research Centre) is established in Florence, Italy, for policy analysis and applied research and information exchange, with a focus on child rights, child protection, economic policy and impact of socio-economic policies on women, children and other vulnerable groups.


On 20 November, after 10 years of preparation, the 159 UN Member States adopt the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).  The CRC sets minimum standards of protection for children everywhere against exploitation, abuse and neglect. UN Secretary-General Perez de Cuellar announces a World Summit for Children to be held at UN Headquarters in September of 1990 as a follow-up. The Summit will be the first high-level forum of its kind, enabling national leaders to focus exclusively on issues affecting the future of their children.

By the end of 1988, 68 per cent of children in the developing world had been immunized with their three doses of DPT (diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus) and polio vaccine by their first birthday. Oral rehydration therapy (ORT) against diarrhoeal dehydration has saved about 750,000 children's lives in a year, and estimates suggest that almost 60 per cent of children under five years of age have access to a trained, regularly supplied provider of oral rehydration salts.

Breast-feeding has made a spectacular comeback in many industrialized countries. New programmes have been, or are being launched in response to the challenges of AIDS. Efforts to revitalize primary health care in sub-Saharan Africa are being spurred by the the Bamako Initiative. Substantial progress is seen in provision of drinking water for all, but greater challenges are foreseen in the area of sanitation services.

UNICEF and other international organizations help prepare for the forthcoming World Conference on Education for All.

'Facts for Life', a booklet on basic health and education needs, is in July by UNICEF, WHO and UNESCO. Soon, more than one million copies are in circulation in some 40 languages. The messages of 'Facts for Life' are interpreted in cartoons and billboards and expressed in the words of puppets as well as by radio, television and newspapers.


The World Summit for Children is held in New York in September. Taking part are leaders from 152 countries representing 99 per cent of the world's population. The Summit adopts the World Declaration on Survival, Protection, Development of Children and a plan of action -- together setting forth a vision of a ‘first call’ for children. The Summit represents the high point to date of a four-decade effort by UNICEF to place children’s needs at the top of the world’s agenda.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child enters into force on 2 September 1990 – representing the most rapid entry-into-force of any human rights treaty.

The World Conference on Education for All, is held in Jomtien, Thailand in March, co-sponsored by UNICEF. Attended by virtually all the Governments
of the world and a large number of NGOS and international agencies, the Conference endorses an expanded vision of basic education and a solid
framework of action for the decade. The goal: to ensure that by the year 2000 at least 80 per cent of all 14-year-old boys and girls will have achieved an
acceptable national standard of primary education. 

The Innocenti Declaration on the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding is issued and becomes a basis for discussion, policy and action worldwide concerning this issue. 

A UNICEF study of AIDS-related mortality among children in 10 seriously affected African countries concludes that between 1.4 and 2.7 million children will die from AIDS during the 1990s.

Four celebrated UNICEF Goodwill Ambassadors receive special honours: Liv Ullmann receives the UNICEF Distinguished service award after 19 years of service; Audrey Hepburn is awarded a Golden Globe Award in Hollywood; Harry Belafonte receives the Nelson Mandela Courage Award; and Sir Peter Ustinov becomes a Knight of the British Empire.


Need to galvanize follow-up to the World Summit for Children spurs a year of unprecedented mobilization for children, involving national governments, UNICEF and UN organizations, parliamentarians, NGOs and others. The tally of government signatures on the World Summit Declaration and Plan of Action rises to 135, and more than 100 of those countries indicate that the Summit's 27 goals for child survival, protection and development are being incorporated in national programmes of action.

The role of UNICEF in implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child is set out, with a Board decision that UNICEF should continue to support the CRC as an integral part of its ongoing country programmes and global advocacy. The 10-member Committee on the Rights of the Child is established to monitor implementation of the Convention

The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) is launched. Hospitals and maternity centres around the world adopt “Ten Steps to successful breastfeeding” advocated by UNICEF and WHO. By 2000, more than 15,000 hospitals and maternity centres in 136 countries will have joined the initiative and received certification as ‘baby-friendly’.

For the first time, the 'State of the World’s Children 1991' report tackles the situation of children in the industrialized world.

UNICEF and WHO official advise UN Secretary General de Cuellar in October that 80 per cent of the developing world's children are being immunized against the major child-killing and crippling diseases - a key goal of the Universal Child Immunization initiative. The announcement generates extensive media coverage. Many nations are now using the infrastructure developed to immunize their children for add-on services including vitamin A supplements, iron supplementation and other prenatal services.

A dramatic jump in UNICEF emergency assistance sees the number of countries receiving such assistance rise from 26 in 1990 to over 40 in 1991.


The number of countries receiving emergency humanitarian assistance from UNICEF rises again to 54. The events precipitating these emergencies ranged from drought and floods to volcanic eruptions and civil wars. But UNICEF Executive Director James Grant draws attention to the fact that 'silent emergencies' -- malnutrition and disease resulting from causes such as lack of immunization, lack of safe water and sanitation, and endemic poverty -- threaten far more children than do the emergencies receiving broad media coverage.

The first International Children’s Day of Broadcasting is launched, created by UNICEF and partners in broadcasting to promote high-quality radio and television programming both for and with children.

Assistance for children in eastern European countries, the Baltic states and the 'newly independent states' expands significantly.

The total number of copies of 'Facts for Life' in circulation swells to some 6 million, in more than 170 languages.

By the end of 1992, developing countries' own National Programmes of Action and the Convention on the Rights of the Child have become important guidelines for setting priorities and strategies for children's wellbeing. The NPAs reflect the international community's growing acceptance of the need for development to have 'a human face'.

The UN Conference on Environment and Development (the Earth Summit, held in June in Rio de Janeiro) endorses goals for achieving sustainable development; children's interests are represented through participatory processes and a focus on children's concerns related to the environment.

Other major conferences this year included the International Conference on Assistance to African Children (Dakar), the International Conference on Nutrition (Rome) and the International Conference on Water and Environment (Ireland).


By the end of 1993, life expectancy in the developing world has increased by about a third since the end of World War II. Infant and child death rates have been halved, the proportion of children starting school has risen from 50 per cent to 75 per cent, and the number of rural families with access to safe drinking water has risen from just 10 per cent to almost 60 per cent. Since 1980, infant deaths from measles and from neonatal tetanus have been cut by half or more.

The number of countries in which UNICEF responds to humanitarian emergencies increases again to 64.

The United Nations General Assembly calls for a report on how to address the issue of children in armed conflict, as the World Community is shocked by incidents involving targeting of children and women in by military commanders and armed groups. UNICEF organizes the first global workshop on psychosocial
programmes for children in situations of armed conflict.

Stronger capacity to monitor goals for children allows UNICEF to release the first of a new series of reports -- the 'Progress of Nations' -- which allow comparison of key indicators between countries and highlight what progress has been made towards the goals of the World Summit for Children.

The World Conference on Human Rights -- the first global review of human rights and the work of the UN in this area since 1968 -- endorses the World Summit for Children mid-decade goal of universal ratification by 1995 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as its founding principle that economic, social and cultural rights are inseparable from civil and political rights.

The main UNICEF supply warehouse in Copenhagen (provided by the Danish Government) this year handles over $112 million (1993 dollars) of supplies for regular and emergency programmes for children and women. The warehouse is currently the largest enclosed structure in Europe.

The number of UNICEF National Committees rises to 34.


The death of Rwanda's President in an air crash triggers the massacre of more than 500,000 people, most oi them civilians. Fourteen UNICEF staff lose their lives. A massive airlift by Western military contingents delivered thousands or rons of relief supplies, distributed by United Nations agencies including UNICEF, NGOs and local officials. UNICEF also helps protect unaccompanied children, provide safe water supplies, vaccines and other medicines and educational materials for refugees from the conflict.

Escalating armed conflicts globally lead to an estimated 25 million people displaced this year within their own countries and 18 million other refugees in
neighbouring countries, two thirds of whom are children. Millions pass through camps and relief centres supported by UNICEF, which provides shelter,
clothing, safe water supplies, sanitation, nutrition, education and health care, including vaccines.

UN partners including UNICEF develop the '20/20' proposal, to finance access to basic social services such as health care and education. The proposal calls for developing countries to allocate 20 per cent of national budgets and 20 per cent of aid to social services.

The UN Girls’ Education Initiative in Africa is launched, led by UNICEF and implemented with partners in more than 60 countries as a major step forward toward achieving the goal of education for all.

The International Conference on Population and Development adopts a programme of action underscoring the linkages between development and population, and helps draw attention and action to the issue of safe motherhood.

Intensive follow-up on the World Summit for Children continues: Between 1990 and the end of 1994, the UNICEF Executive Director and his country representatives held over 100 meetings with presidents and prime ministers to promote goals for children.

UNHCR, UNICEF, ICRC and NGOs began advocating for the adoption of an Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, on the involvement of children in armed conflict.

By year's end, 34 African countries are participating in the Bamako Initiative to improve primary health care through community-based approaches continues. Success is marked in many; for example, Guinea has increased its number of functional health centres from 31 in 1987 to 295 today.

Nutrition research funded by UNICEF this year shows that malnutrition is an important factor in more than half of the deaths of children under live yeans old in the developing world -- a much higher figure than previously thought.


In spite of record population growth, primary school enrolment in developing countries has gone up from 48 per cent to 77 per cent since 1960. Oral rehydration therapy was virtually unused as recently as 1980, but in 1995 it was used in 60 per cent of diarrhoeal episodes worldwide, saving the lives of about 1.5 million children during the year. The mid-decade goal for safe water supply, called for reducing by 25 per cent the difference between 1990 levels of access and universal access, is surpassed, with a 36 per cent global reduction in the difference between 1990 levels and universal access.

The World Summit for Social Development, Copenhagen, March 1995 represents a landmark shift by governments to support policies that promote a people-centred framework for social development and justice. Among the 10 key commitments endorsed at the summit are several directly related to concerns of children and women, including promotion of gender equality and promotion of universal and equitable access to quality education and health care. A key aspect of UNICEF support for follow-up to the WSSD is the 20/20 initiative, for which UNICEF is the lead agency within the UN system.

The Fourth World Conference on Women, Beijing, September 1995, renews global commitment to uphold the rights of women. UNICEF lobbies successfully for inclusion of the girl child on the broader agenda. Heightened support for the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is based on the complementarity between children’s rights and women’s rights.

A new approach to estimating maternal mortality developed by Johns Hopkins, WHO and UNICEF is published in the 1996 Progress of Nations (which is available for the first time on the internet). The new estimates provoke wide debate and discussion on the issue of maternal mortality, leading to increased awareness and renewed efforts.

The Child Rights Information Network (CRIN) is launched,  linking UN agencies, academic institutions, NGOs to gather and other information on child rights activities globally.

As of December 1995, all but eight countries in the world had ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child — propelling it towards becoming the first universal law in history. Long regarded as the property of their parents, children have come to be seen as individuals with fundamental human rights that adult society must respect and essential needs that must be fulfilled.

The growing consensus on child rights and the powerful framework provided by the Convention on the Rights of the Child helps UNICEF in issuing a call for special protection measures for children at serious risk — such as those working under exploitative conditions, who are disabled or suffering from HIV/AIDS, who have lost their families or primary caregivers, or who are suffering from war or other forms of organized violence.

Carol Bellamy is appointed UNICEF Executive Director in May of this year.

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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