Learning from experience: 1989–2005

Find out how UNICEF brought nations together under the banner of children’s rights.


18 June 2018

Find out how UNICEF brought nations together under the banner of children’s rights.


159 United Nations Member States adopt the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most universally approved human rights treaty for the protection of children.

United States, 1989: UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Audrey Hepburn (left) reads an excerpt of the Convention on the Rights of the Child at a meeting with children from around the world celebrating this historic document.

“The best interests of children must be the primary concern in
making decisions that may affect them.”

Convention on the Rights of the Child.


The World Summit for Children, convened by UNICEF, brought together an unprecedented number of heads of state to rally around the cause of children and adopt the Declaration on the Survival, Protection and Development of Children.

The World Summit for Children in 1990 brought together 152 world leaders, more than had ever been assembled before.


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.

China, 1993: A nurse records the footprint of a newborn on a chart just after birth, in the maternity ward of the UNICEF-assisted Union hospital in Beijing.


UNICEF and UNESCO invent and distribute School-in-a-Box, a global effort to support uninterrupted education for children in humanitarian crises. 

United Republic of Tanzania, 1994: Children write on chalkboards provided by UNICEF and UNESCO at a temporary school for Rwandan refugees.


At the Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing, China, world leaders renew their commitment to the rights of women and girls.

South Africa, 1998: Women factory workers show their calloused and scarred hands.

1995 to 2005

Carol Bellamy speaks with children at a school receiving support from UNICEF. Somalia 2000.

“When the lives and rights of children are at stake, there must be no silent witnesses.”

Carol Bellamy, UNICEF Executive Director (1995–2005).


The Graça Machel report, Impact of Armed Conflict on Children, describes the devastating effects of war on children and advocates for their special protection.



UNICEF adopts a human rights-based approach to programming, placing human rights principles at the centre of its work.

Yemen, 1998: Boys in class at Al-Bainia Primary School in the village of Al-Bainia, in southern Yemen.


UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) intervene to deliver vaccines and other urgent health services for children in conflict.

Albania, 1999: Two refugee boys from Kosovo, one sleeping with his head on the other's shoulder, sit on the ground leaning against the open door of a red car while other family members sit inside the car, which brought the family from Kosovo to the norther border town of Kukes.


A special session of the United Nations General Assembly – the first dedicated exclusively to children – reviews progress on the goals set by the 1990 World Summit for Children.

United States, 2002: A child delegate addresses the United Nations General Assembly during the Special Session on Children.


UNICEF and partners organize a rapid humanitarian response to a devastating tsunami in the Indian Ocean.

India, 2005. An eight-year-old child stands on what remains of her home following the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004.

2005 to 2010

UNICEF launches the “Unite for Children, Unite against AIDS” campaign to mobilize resources and accelerate action for children vulnerable to HIV and AIDS. 

Sudan, 2005: Children attend a local launch of the “Unite for Children, Unite against AIDS” campaign.

Building results-based programming and partnerships to unite for children. 

Ann M. Veneman, UNICEF Executive Director (2005–2010).
Pakistan, 2005: Ann M. Veneman, UNICEF Executive Director, sits at the bedside of an earthquake victim.

As the world realized the scale of challenges children face, and agreed to work toward a unified solution, UNICEF began to highlight the impact of inequity on women and children.

Explore our 2006-2015 timeline.