United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) - UPSC Notes

The United Nations Children’s Fund, popularly known as UNICEF, is a United Nations agency that provides developmental and humanitarian aid to children worldwide. UNICEF is an important topic for the IAS exam

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UNICEF started as the International Children’s Emergency Fund (IECF) in 1946, formed by the UN Relief Rehabilitation Administration in order to offer relief and healthcare for affected children and mothers in the aftermath of the Second World War. In the same year, the UN established the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) to manage its post-war relief work better. Though it became a permanent part of the UN in 1953 and subsequently changed its name to United Nations Children’s Fund, it continues to use the acronym UNICEF.

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  • UNICEF engages in fighting for the rights of children all over the world.
  • It also works to provide safe shelter, healthcare, nutrition, education, equality and protection from disaster and conflicts.
  • Other areas the UNICEF works are providing vaccines, safe water and sanitation, HIV prevention in mothers and babies, protecting children from violence and abuse, early childhood development, adolescent health, etc.
  • It also works in regions embroiled in humanitarian crises, to give relief and rehabilitation.
  • Today, UNICEF works in more than 190 nations, in collaboration with other UN partners, and as a part of the larger UN system. It is not a specialised agency of the UN.
  • UNICEF also comes up with research reports on various aspects related to children all around the globe.
  • It received the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1965.

UPSC Prelims Facts for UNICEF

UNICEF - UPSC Prelims Facts

UNICEF Functioning

UNICEF functions through 150 country offices and other facilities all over the world.

  • It focuses on developing community-level services to achieve its larger goal of children’s welfare and development.
  • It is headed by an Executive Director.
  • UNICEF’s governing body is its Executive Board.
    • It comprises 36 member countries each for a three-year term. They are elected by the ECOSOC.
  • It has more than 30 ‘National Committees’ that implements its mission via programs that are developed in tandem with the host country’s government.
    • These are basically NGOs that engage in fundraising activities, selling UNICEF products, creating partnerships, championing the cause of child rights, and offering socially-beneficial support.
  • UNICEF relies on government and private funding and contributions for all its activities and various programs.
  • The following countries are home to UNICEF Regional Offices.
    • West and Central Africa Regional Office, Dakar, Senegal
    • The Americas and Caribbean Regional Office, Panama City, Panama
    • Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Office, Nairobi, Kenya
    • Europe and Central Asia Regional Office, Geneva, Switzerland
    • East Asia and the Pacific Regional Office, Bangkok, Thailand
    • The Middle East and North Africa Regional Office, Amman, Jordan
    • South Asia Regional Office, Kathmandu, Nepal
  • The five core values of UNICEF are:
    • Care
    • Respect
    • Integrity
    • Trust
    • Accountability

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Scope of UNICEF’s Work

  • The work of the UNICEF includes:
    • Child Development and Nutrition;
    • Child Protection;
    • Education;
    • Child Environment;
    • Polio Eradication;
    • Reproductive and Child Health;
    • Children and AIDS;
    • Social Policy, Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation;
    • Advocacy and Partnership;
    • Behaviour Change Communication;
    • Emergency Preparedness and Response.
  • UNICEF dedicated its effort for children’s welfare and improvement after 1950, particularly in developing and underdeveloped countries and in emergency situations.
  • UNICEF is committed to ensuring special protection for the most disadvantaged children — victims of war, disasters, extreme poverty, all forms of violence and exploitation, especially those with disabilities.
  • It expanded its scope to the struggle of women and mothers, and launched its ‘Women in Development Programme’ in 1980.
  • In 1982, it started a new children’s health program directed towards monitoring growth, oral rehydration therapy, advocating breastfeeding and immunization.
  • It mobilizes political will and material resources to help developing countries
  • UNICEF works with all its partners towards the attainment of the sustainable human development goals adopted by the world community.
  • The realization of the vision of peace and social progress enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations.

UNICEF and India

UNICEF’s partnership with India began in 1949. Its first office was established in New Delhi in 1952.

  • The nodal agency in India for interacting with UNICEF is the GOI’s Ministry of Women and Child Development.
  • Currently, UNICEF works in 17 states with more than 400 staff members.
  • UNICEF has been very active in India in the past many decades.
  • Most of their work in the country is by partnering with the government in the implementation of the various governmental schemes.
  • Though initially, the organisation focused on providing medicines, equipment and supplies, currently, it contributes in many broad areas such as providing low-cost, nutritionally balanced food products from locally available food sources; giving training to personnel engaged in child-care projects, sanitation, water supply, health and family planning; and evolving simplified basic-educational kits, specially in the field of science and technology.
  • UNICEF’s priority in India is children in the age group 0 – 5 years since most deaths happen within this group. For this, UNICEF seeks to work with mothers and ensure they have access to adequate nutrition and healthcare.
  • A second area of priority is to focus on vulnerable areas like slums, backward remote areas, drought or flood-prone areas, etc.
  • Another noteworthy point is that India is among the top donors to UNICEF.
  • A problem encountered in the functioning of UNICEF in the country is that since it works in tandem with government schemes, the execution is sluggish in pace.

Strengths and Weaknesses of UNICEF

Like many global organizations around the world, UNICEF has its fair share of strengths and weaknesses. They are listed in brief below: 


  • UNICEF can impact major changes in strategy as well as practice, even though the pace may be slow.
  • It has become an authority on the education of girls, especially through its Child Protection programmes and the UNAIDS.
  • UNICEF has successfully made the shift from a needs-based, vertical sector programme to a rights-based approach rooted in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, although greater clarity on the implementation of rights-based programming at country level is still required. Read more on the Convention on the Rights of the Child in PIB dated 20 Nov, 2019.
  • UNICEF plays a significant role in emergency response and it has improved by a huge degree in emergency planning and preparedness.
  • It has gender sensitive programming although it has miles to go in this regard.
  • Security standards have been introduced and security capacity and communications networks strengthened.


  • Self-Image & criticising governments: UNICEF has the image of an agency that keeps its distance, never directly pointing fingers at rogue governments, for fear of its operations being shunted out of that country. 
  • Partnership: There has been a rapid increase in collaboration and diversification of partnerships with civil society.  Despite this, UNICEF priorities and strategies for partnerships are limiting the scope for partnership.
  • Bureaucracy and complexity: UNICEF is a largely bureaucratic organisation and suffers from the problems associated with this such as wasteful spending, red tape, etc.

Strategic Plan of UNICEF 2018–2021

  • The plan will help realize and protect the rights of all children through five goal areas, they are :
    • every child survives and thrives;
    • every child learns;
    • every child is protected from violence and exploitation;
    • every child lives in a safe and clean environment; and
    • every child has an equitable chance in life.
  • These goals are linked to both the Sustainable Development Goals SDGs and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Read more about the Sustainable Development Goals on the linked page.
  • The plan also includes two additional areas that cut across all of the other goals:
  • It promotes synergies across goal areas to address early childhood development and adolescent development, and to support children with disabilities.

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