This is the little boy on the beach we can remember with a smile - not lying face down and lifeless in the sand, but playing in it with joyful abandon. 

His name is Hussein and, like that other little boy who washed up on Turkey's shore and broke the world's heart, this 5-year-old's short life has been shaped by conflict. 

Hussein is growing up in Gaza where years of violence have reduced entire communities to rubble but, at least for a day, he was free to be a child and romp about in the sand. He told us, "I don’t know how to swim in the sea yet but I know how to make a mini pool: I dig a hole in the sand like this and wait for a big wave to come and fill it with water.”

In 2015, a staggering one in nine of the world's children lived like Hussein in areas affected by conflict, while more people were displaced from their homes than at any other moment since World World II.

The following photos bear witness to the lives of children in this historic year, and reveal UNICEF's powerful work to protect and support them in 190 countries.



© UNICEF/UNI197517/Gilbertson VII Photo

“When their boat arrived, everyone looked pale and afraid and this boy was the only one with a big smile,” said Kinan Kadouni, a Syrian refugee who travelled from his home in Belgium to help new arrivals on the Greek island of Lesbos.
Nearly a million people have made the treacherous journey to Europe this year and some 500 children have lost their lives at sea.
“It would be good for the refugees who come by boat to find someone welcoming them,” said Kinan. “They are my brothers and sisters in humanity and I am a refugee as well. So I am just one of them.”


© UNICEF/UNI196289/Georgiev

For children on the move through Europe, the search for safety and a better life meant weeks of exhausting travel. Children told us they were exhausted and had trouble sleeping outside in the cold at night - often stuck in wet clothes after it rains. They were worried they would be arrested or sent back to the violence of their home countries but they still talked about missing their homes and playing with their friends. They hoped to go to school again soon and to simply sleep in a bed. 

UNICEF continues to distribute winter clothes, raincoats, children’s footwear, blankets and hygiene kits so families can keep some semblance of a safe and normal life.

The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

© UNICEF/UNI196244/Georgiev

As if their current plight were not distressing enough, the vast majority of children seeking refuge Europe were escaping horrors we can only imagine – half of those who crossed the Mediterranean into Europe in 2015 were Syrian.

UNICEF has established child-friendly spaces where children can play and access psychosocial support and where women can rest and take care of their babies.


© UNICEF/NYHQ2015–0248/El Baba

Six months after a devastating bout of violence in Gaza, the scars were raw as ever for children like Samar and Rosol as they struggled to come to terms with the loss of their father and their home. UNICEF gave the sisters psychosocial care to help them cope with profound stress, return to school and start to rebuild their lives.
The girls’ grandfather, Ali, told us he wanted better for his family. “My grandchildren deserve to lead a good life. Like all children in the world.”

“I don't know about the future,
we live under siege. This is the
only thing that makes us feel free.”
Gaza teens Fares and Fahed reimagined their crumbling neighbourhood as a playground for vertigo-inducing ‘parkour’ moves. Where others saw walls, rooftops and chasms, these boys saw an obstacle course on which to practise their quick manoevres. The sport does carry serious risks but Fares told us he doesn't feel afraid.

“Gaza is an end,” said Fares. “We live here because there is no other choice. This is the life we have, and we just make it work.”


© UNICEF Myanmar

In Myanmar, our photographers captured the simple joys of going to school. Sure, there were rules and homework, exams and early starts, but it was the little moments of fun, friendship and discovery that really mattered. Like when it started raining and everyone lost themselves in fits of excitement and silliness.

These are the moments UNICEF and our partners at H&M want all children to experience, but across Myanmar more than one million children are missing out. So in 2015, H&M Conscious Foundation launched a global campaign to bring quality education to over 350,000 eager young minds.
© UNICEF/UNI193997/Gilbertson VII

For these fourth-grade students, a community water point was a chance to wash, stay healthy and - of course - to splash each other on a hot day.

Incredibly, one in three people globally still don't have access to improved sanitation so this remains a huge priority for UNICEF. We work in more than 100 countries to improve facilities in schools and communities and to promote safe hygiene practices.


© UNICEF/UNI183743/Chen

When massive earthquakes struck Nepal in April and May, this 11-year-old boy's home was one of 605,000 to be destroyed.

UNICEF was there from day one, delivering clean water, sanitation and shelter to families sleeping rough, keeping children safe and setting up temporary hospitals so lifesaving medical care could continue. We were there in the tough months that followed, providing nutritional support, helping kids back to school and giving them the psychosocial support they needed to cope and recover. We’ve been in Nepal for more than 40 years and we’ll be there for children as long as we’re needed.
“Someday, when we look back, we
won't remember this as a time of loss
or earthquakes but as when our first baby
was born. And he is a healthy baby.”
© UNICEF/UNI186160/Sokol


© UNICEF/UNI182593/Pirozzi

This baby didn't have a care in the world as she slept peacefully in a traditional cloth cradle, safe at a child-care centre on the island of Borneo. As a member of the indigenous Kadazandusun ethnic group, she may grow up facing some marginalisation and need a little extra support to reach her potential, so UNICEF will be there with education and other programs to help her thrive into adulthood.



​© UNICEF/UNI181131/Crumb

Rachel’s world was turned upside down when Cyclone Pam slammed into Vanuatu in March. At just three years of age she watched her house get washed away by thousands of litres of water from a ruptured water tank.
When UNICEF visited her and her family the next day we met a child who was fearful and withdrawn. She wasn’t communicating, instead sweeping the bare concrete pad where her house had been - perhaps a child’s attempt to put things back the way they were before the cyclone.
As communities struggled to recover from the destruction, UNICEF gave 10,500 children like Rachel access to safe spaces where they could get psychosocial support, play, learn and simply be kids again.



​© UNICEF/UNI179968/Filippov

Huddled in the darkness of a bomb shelter, this family was among 1.6 million people forced from their homes by conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Delivering humanitarian aid to people in shelters, basements and cellars has been a huge challenge but UNICEF is providing clean water, hygiene supplies and health care for vulnerable children and their families.



A large artillery shell was a strange source of curiosity for this little boy after it landed - unexploded - near his family's home. Did he know how close he came to death, or the dangers of playing with something so terribly explosive? 

637 children have been killed and 927 more injured since conflict escalated in March 2015. UNICEF has been working to keep children safe by distributing educational materials on the risks of unexploded ordnances and mines, but the reality is that more children may die from a lack of medicines and healthcare than from bullets and bombs.

It's a grave humanitarian situation and UNICEF continues to respond to children's needs for healthcare, water, sanitation and protection.

​© UNICEF/UNI184985/Hamoud
“I'm laughing because at last I filled the
two heavy buckets with water after four
hours of queuing. I do this every day. I'm
very tired and bored. I should be playing
not struggling every day to fetch water.”


© UNICEF/UN05325/Dragaj

A lone stroll along the sandbanks gave this boy a moment's peace from the crowds of M'bera refugee camp, where 53,000 refugees have escaped from violence in northern Mali.

Life in this hot, dry and remote region can be unforgiving but UNICEF is delivering the safe water, nutrition and learning opporunities children need to get on with their lives.



​© UNICEF/UNI197919/Schermbrucker

More than ever before, HIV-positive women like Bertha got the treatment they needed to give birth to healthy babies in 2015. Little Tecla is one of 1.3 million children who have been protected from HIV infection since 2000. We have more work to do and more families to reach but we're sure about one thing: the world can achieve an AIDS-free generation.
​© UNICEF/UNI186112/Calvin

Spotted at a Tanzanian camp: a helping hand between two refugee children as they sheltered from violence back home in Burundi. UNICEF is helping with clean water and sanitation supplies, health posts and Early Childhood Development Centres where curious young students can continue learning.
​© UNICEF/UNI188799/Beechey

This Burundian boy couldn't find any toys in the camp so he collected some plastic bags and made himself a kite.


South Sudan

© UNICEF/UNI178285/Peru

In 2015, UNICEF and partners secured the freedom of 3,000 child soldiers in South Sudan — one of the largest ever releases of children from armed forces.
Some had been fighting for the last four years, many had never attended school and all of them had been forced to see and do things no child should ever experience. Then, in a series of ceremonies, the children laid down their weapons and walked away from lives of conflict.
UNICEF helped to reunite the children with their families, provided their immediate necessities and supported the counselling they needed to start life again in peace. Our support will continue for a minimum of 18 months to 2 years as they return to school and move forward with their lives.


Central African Republic

​© UNICEF/UNI195249/Le Du

Free from violence. Free from exploitation. Free to choose their own path.
In August, 163 children in Central African Republic were released from a brutal life in armed forces, joining a total of 600 child soldiers freed in 2015.
The children - including five girls - received medical care, spoke to our social workers and ran eagerly down this road to a UNICEF transition centre. Our next priorities are to trace their families and to get these curious young minds into school.



© UNICEF/UNI180880/Grile

In 2014, Mercy Kennady was found wandering alone through a thick grove of banana trees in Liberia, crying uncontrollably. She had just lost her mum to Ebola.
A year later, everything was different. Mercy had the support of foster mum Martu and she was enrolled in school, laughing with classmates.
More than 16,000 children like Mercy lost one or both parents to Ebola but UNICEF helped 97% of them to find protection and care with extended family and community members.



© UNICEF/UNI181989/Rich

These are the bright, cheeky faces UNICEF has been working so hard to protect in Nigeria. After fleeing from the atrocious violence of Boko Haram, these kids finally got psychosocial support and the chance to continue their education in a UNICEF classroom.


© UNICEF/NYHQ2015-1847/Gilbertson VII

That smile was 12-year-old Kosalata loving the simple joy of safe and abundant water.

Before this borehole was installed, Kosolata's family had to collect dangerous water from shallow wells. "People were getting diarrhoea, dysentery and even cholera," her mother explained. "We got a borehole in 2011, and since then, people don’t get sick because of the water.” 

Now, water a source of little pleasures. “I love washing clothes, especially the bedding," Kosolata told us. "Clean bedding is hygienic, and it feels nice and smells nice.”
​© UNICEF/UNI189751/Gilbertson VII

Bath time! Two-year-old Tamadani (little brother to Kosalata, above) was one of the youngest in his community to benefit from the new water pump. This special little moment captured the everyday importance of UNICEF's work: mother and son enjoying their rights to clean water, sanitation and the chance of a healthy future together.

Stand by children in 2016

UNICEF Australia has an amazing group of supporters called Global Parents who make an ongoing pledge to protect and support children through their first 1,000 days of life. By signing up with a monthly gift, our Global Parents make a beautiful commitment: that wherever a child is born and whatever comes their way, we'll give them a life, a chance, a choice.

You can help us continue this critical work for kids, wherever the need is greatest.