UNICEF video about children.

Conferences | Children


The protection, health, and welfare of children has been a focus of the United Nations since the time of the creation of the Organization in 1945.

The destruction of Europe during World War Two, and the aftermath made the children of Europe vulnerable. The International Children’s Emergency Fund (ICEF) was created by the UN Relief Rehabilitation Administration to help affected children. On 11 December 1946, a resolution of the United Nations General Assembly brought the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) into being. In 1953, UNICEF became a permanent United Nations agency and has served as the focal point for children in the UN system ever since.

In 1959, the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, which defines children’s rights to protection, education, health care, shelter, and good nutrition.

The United Nations declared 1979 as the International Year of the Child to increase awareness of the conditions facing the world’s children and to spur action on children’s rights.

At its forty-fourth session, in 1989, the General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which entered into force on 2 September 1990.

At its fifty-fourth session, the Assembly adopted  two optional protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child: one on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, and one on the involvement of children in armed conflict. The first protocol entered into force on 18 January 2002 and the second on 12 February 2002.

The year 1990 was historic in the life of the United Nations and its commitment to the well-being of children, as the first UN conference on children, the World Summit for Children, took place in New York. The Summit, 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.

Five years later, at the Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing, China, world leaders renewed their commitment to the rights of women and girls.

In 2002, a special session of the United Nations General Assembly – the first dedicated exclusively to children – reviewed progress on the goals set by the 1990 World Summit for Children.

In addition to the work of UNICEF, and the legal conventions which established rights for children, many of the funds, programmes and agencies of the UN system have, as some element of their work, the well-being of children. From the focus on education of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), to the efforts of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to abolish child labor, to the Children and Youth Programme of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), to the nutritional work for mothers and young children provided by the World Food Programme (WFP), to disease-eradication campaigns by the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN system is there for children.

Since 1999, the UN Security Council has made the situation of children affected by armed conflict an issue affecting peace and security.The UN Security Council has adopted resolutions to request the UN to:

  • to gather and verify information detailing where and how children are affected by armed conflict;
  • to use this information in the annual report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict presented to the Security Council;
  • to name parties to conflict who commit violations that are triggers for listing;
  • to engage in dialogue with listed Governments and armed groups to develop Action Plans to halt and prevent violations against children.

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict serves as the leading UN advocate for the protection and well-being of children affected by armed conflict. The Special Representative's mandate was created by General Assembly Resolution A/RES/51/77, following the publication, in 1996, of a report by Graça Machel titled the “Impact of Armed Conflict on Children”. Her report highlighted the disproportionate impact of war on children and identified them as the primary victims of armed conflict.

An action plan is a written, signed commitment between the United Nations and parties to conflict listed in the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict. Each action plan outlines concrete, time-bound measure to end violations against children, release and reunify children with their families, but also to put in place legislation, tools and mechanisms to prevent future violations and to hold perpetrators accountable.

Child protection is also at the heart of UN Peacekeeping.  Conflicts disproportionately affect children. Many are subject to abductions, military recruitment, killing, maiming, and numerous forms of exploitation. In many conflict-ridden countries, peacekeeping missions are the largest actor on the ground and their contribution is vital to protecting children. The protection of children in conflict has been included in the mandates of peace operations since 2001.

In 2006, a UN Study provided a set of recommendations on how to end violence against children; and the Secretary-General appointed a Special Representative to ensure their effective follow-up and to monitor implementation.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015 to end poverty, reduce inequality and build more peaceful, prosperous societies by 2030.  The SDG goals will help everyone live in better world. They will also leave children a better, more sustainable world in the future. More than 100 Member States have renewed their commitment to children’s rights in the context of implementing the SDGs. UNICEF works with governments, partners and other UN agencies to help countries ensure the goals deliver results for and with every child – now and for generations to come.


The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) was originally known as the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund. It was created by the United Nations General Assembly on 11 December 1946, to provide emergency food and healthcare to children and mothers in countries that had been devastated by World War II. In 1950, UNICEF's mandate was extended to address the long-term needs of children and women in developing countries everywhere. In 1953 it became a permanent part of the United Nations system, and the words "international" and "emergency" were dropped from the organization's name. Throughout its history,  UNICEF continues to work to promote the rights and well-being of children everywhere.


Each year, the UNICEF publication The State of the World's Children, examines a key issue affecting children. The report includes supporting data and statistics.

The State of the World's Children 1991 focused on the 1990 World Summit for Children and its outcomes. The Declaration and Plan of Action and the full text of the Convention on the Rights of the Child were included. 

The State of the World's Children 2019 focused on children, food and nutrition.

(See special interactive web feature on the State of the World's Children 2019: the changing face of malnutrition)

A young child in the village of Zeaglo, Côte d'Ivoire.

COVID-19 and children

Children are not the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. But they risk being among its biggest victims. Their lives are being changed in profound ways. All the world's children are being affected, in particular by the socio-economic impact, and in some cases, by mitigation measures that may inadvertently do more harm than good. Moreover, the harmful effects of the pandemic will not be distributed equally. They are expected to be most damaging for children in the poorest countries, and in the poorest neighborhoods, and for those in already disadvantaged or vulnerable situations.

The ongoing crisis could increase the number of children living in monetary poor households by up to 117 million by the end of the 2020, according to the latest analysis from UNICEF and Save the Children. Immediate loss of income often means families are less able to afford basics, including food and water, are less likely to access health care or education, and are more at risk of violence, exploitation and abuse. 188 countries have imposed countrywide school closures, affecting more than 1.6 billion children and youth. The potential losses in learning for today’s young generation are hard to fathom. More than two-thirds of countries have introduced a national distance learning platform, but among low-income countries the share is only 30 percent. Before this crisis, almost one third of the world’s young people were already digitally excluded.

While the available evidence indicates the direct impact of COVID-19 on child and adolescent mortality to be very limited, the indirect effects on child survival  stemming from strained health systems, household income loss, and disruptions to care-seeking and preventative interventions like vaccination may be substantial and widespread.

Today, more vulnerable children are becoming malnourished due to the deteriorating quality of their diets and the multiple shocks created by the pandemic and its containment measures. Efforts to mitigate the transmission of COVID-19 are disrupting food systems, upending health and nutrition services, devastating livelihoods, and threatening food security.

The COVID-19 crisis could lead to the first rise in child labour after 20 years of progress. Child labour decreased by 94 million since 2000, but that gain is now at risk. Among other impacts, COVID-19 could result in a rise in poverty and therefore to an increase in child labour as households use every available means to survive. A one percentage point rise in poverty could lead to at least a 0.7 per cent increase in child labour in certain countries. Lockdowns and shelter in place measures come with a heightened risk of children witnessing or suffering violence and abuse.

Policy Brief: the impact of COVID-19 on children