Ninth Conference of Spouses of Heads of State and Government of the Americas


Backgrounder:  United Nations Children’s Fund

Founded in 1946, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is the only United Nations organization that is dedicated exclusively to children. UNICEF helps the young around the world to meet their basic needs and to expand their opportunities to reach their full potential.

Headquartered in New York City and Geneva, UNICEF works with other UN bodies, government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to improve the lot of children through community-based services in primary health care, basic education, and safe water and sanitation in developing countries. UNICEF also advocates and works toward the protection of children’s rights, striving to establish these as enduring ethical principles and international standards of behaviour.

Bolstered by the nearly universal acceptance of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNICEF is making human rights the guiding force of its programs. As part of this rights-promoting work, UNICEF assisted polio eradication campaigns around the world and joined the World Health Organization (WHO) in launching the Roll Back Malaria campaign. UNICEF also helped to restore schooling and other social services in 55 crisis-stricken countries. UNICEF spreads the word about children’s rights in venues ranging from community centres to television shows, and from children’s assemblies to sessions of Parliament. In Thailand, for example, children who gathered for a nation-wide assembly on education in 1998 helped to devise new child-centered policies. And with the advice of UNICEF, Ecuador revised its Constitution in 1998 to strengthen children’s protection from abuse, exploitation and unfair treatment by the justice system. UNICEF also helps governments to gather data on health, nutrition and other vital areas as a way to reveal and eliminate disparities.

Along with children’s rights, women’s rights are at the heart of UNICEF’s operations. Guided by the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, UNICEF works with partners to end gender-based violence and other abuses. UNICEF also helps to widen women’s access to good-quality health care, literacy training, affordable credit and programs promoting awareness of their rights. UNICEF supported initiatives to end female genital mutilation in Africa and elsewhere, a campaign that made notable progress in 1998, when Senegal banned the practice.

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