UNICEF was established in the aftermath of World War II to help children in crisis. 

More than 70 years later, UNICEF is much more than an emergency fund. It’s a global network active in 190 countries and territories - more than any other children’s organisation. It’s thousands of staff and volunteers who work with governments and local organisations to protect children from danger. It’s millions of donors determined to do their part for children in crisis and poverty.

And UNICEF is children everywhere standing up for their rights, fighting for their futures and creating change in their communities. But what if we didn’t exist? 

1. There would be regular outbreaks of deadly diseases

UNICEF believes no child should die of a preventable disease. That’s why we provide vaccines for 45% of the world’s youngest children every year. In 2016, that meant 2.5 billion vaccines reached children in nearly 100 countries.

These vaccinations avert disastrous outbreaks and countless child deaths every year. Between 2000 and 2015, the measles vaccine alone prevented around 20.3 million deaths.

UNICEF’s huge buying power makes vaccines cheaper so we can reach more children in more places. As part of GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, we helped reduce the price of the pentavalent vaccine (which protects children against five deadly diseases) by half. These incredible savings make vaccines affordable for lower-income governments and make every dollar donated to UNICEF go even further. In 2016, we saved US$588 million on vaccines through strategic planning and negotiation.

UNICEF’s work goes beyond buying vaccines. With partners like the World Health Organisation, we help governments and communities vaccinate children who would go without - children in remote villages, behind battle lines and in places devastated by natural disaster.
In photos: how UNICEF helps vaccinate the hardest-to-reach
A man carries a vaccine carrier across a river in Nepal A man carries a vaccine carrier across a river in Nepal A man carries a vaccine carrier across a river in Nepal
It’s only possible through a huge, global network of health workers and volunteers championing vaccines in their own villages and cities. Without training and supplies these local heroes couldn't protect children in their own communities from disease.

2016 saw the smallest number of children paralysed by polio in history. That year, UNICEF deployed more than 17,000 full-time, community vaccinators – most of them women – in the parts of Pakistan most at risk. These areas then recorded the highest immunisation coverage in the country’s history.

2. War-torn countries like Syria might never be rebuilt

Children who survive war have a huge task ahead of them as adults: to rebuild their communities and countries from rubble. 

But if a generation of children grow up without a safe place to learn and play, they’ll never become the teachers, doctors and engineers who will rebuild a peaceful community.

UNICEF makes sure more of the world’s children learn than any other organisation. And children in crisis deserve the right to education just as much as a child anywhere. In 2016, UNICEF reached 11.7 million children living through humanitarian emergencies with basic education and more than 3 million children with psychosocial support.
Children growing up in Syria haven’t given up on learning. In 2016, UNICEF and international humanitarian partners helped increase school enrolment in Syria by 8% despite the huge obstacles presented by ongoing violence. We trained 6,017 teachers to make sure no child is left behind in class. And we helped 12,000 in rural and besieged attend their high school exams and start writing a brighter future for their country.
Nadeen* was forced out of class for two years when her school closed down due to fighting in Aleppo. “It was the hardest period of my life. I felt like I had no purpose,” says the 16-year-old. UNICEF is helping children like her attend their exams and plan their futures by offering education grants, safe accommodation and revision classes. “My family was nervous about me coming to sit for national Grade 9 exams in Aleppo. The road is dangerous and the trip itself is long and tiring but I didn’t care, as long as it meant I could study and achieve my dreams of becoming a teacher. I had to do it.” © UNICEF/UN070696/Al-Issa (*name changed)

3. Families hit by cyclones and earthquakes would be on their own

UNICEF is on the ground before, during and after humanitarian emergencies. Every stage of a disaster brings new, deadly threats for children. 

In 2015, two earthquakes in Nepal shook the ground so violently that thousands lost their lives. The immediate needs of Nepal’s children were also life-threatening: water points, hospitals, homes and birthing centres had been destroyed. Without a swift response, thousands more children could have been lost to preventable disease, treatable medical issues and horrific exploitation through trafficking.

Luckily, UNICEF’s response began on day one. We were ready with life-saving clean water, shelter and supplies for families who had lost everything. We set up temporary hospitals, prevented outbreaks of disease and found children who had been separated from their parents in the chaos.
Nepal’s earthquakes left 70 per cent of birthing centres in some parts of Nepal destroyed. Thousands of mums and newborns could have gone without critical healthcare but UNICEF helped set up shelters so that babies could come into the world safely. © UNICEF/UN016490/Shrestha

Long after the earthquakes faded from global headlines, UNICEF continued working for children in Nepal. We kept saving lives by restoring water sources, supporting families through a freezing winter and helping communities prepare for future emergencies.

4. Millions of children could die from malnutrition

UNICEF is the largest buyer of therapeutic food, procuring an incredible 80% of the world’s emergency supplies. If UNICEF didn’t exist, hospitals, remote health clinics and mobile health teams would have gone without 33,000 tonnes of therapeutic food in 2016. And the 3 million children we helped recover from the deadliest form of malnutrition may not have made it.

Khadija is one of those survivors. She was starving when she arrived at a UNICEF-supported hospital in Nigeria. Her arm was barely wider than her mother’s thumb. “I fell sick myself and could not breastfeed,” said her mother. 20 days of therapeutic food and medicine saved Khadija’s life. She and her mum left the hospital with handfuls of therapeutic food to use at home until she recovered. 
© UNICEF Nigeria/Commins

UNICEF has also made therapeutic food more accessible for everyone. Fifteen years ago, the world’s supply of therapeutic food came from a single European manufacturer. UNICEF helped bring production into lower-income countries where children were in critical need. By 2016, UNICEF worked with 18 manufacturers, many partners like the World Food Programme and saw chronic malnutrition recorded at its lowest level among children in history.

5. Children forced to fight could never return to their normal lives

In countries torn apart by conflict, UNICEF specialists have an unimaginably difficult job: negotiating with armed forces to set children free. Without them, the 21,000 children released from armed forces in 2016 may still be trapped in violent groups today.

But our work doesn’t finish there. Once children are released, UNICEF helps trace and reunite them with their families.

Restarting lives in the community takes years and UNICEF is in it for the long run. At the heart of these children’s reintegration is their return to school. We’ll support them through the process so education and their classmates can be sources of strength as they move forward with their lives.
Gatkuoth* is one of thousands of children in South Sudan UNICEF has helped free from armed groups. “I didn’t like being a soldier. There was nothing good about being a soldier. I did like the money the army gave me, though I didn’t like what they made me do with the guns. I did try and run away from the army many times but it was no [use]. I always got caught and was punished. I am very happy to be outside the army. I now live with my auntie and I want to grow up to be a doctor and help my people." In 2015, UNICEF oversaw the release of 1,775 former child soldiers in South Sudan - one of the largest demobilisations of children ever. (*name changed) © UNICEF/UN028377/Rich

6. Thousands of children would never see their parents again

War and disaster separate thousands of children from their families every year. UNICEF uses innovative mobile networks and painstaking research to trace families of children found alone in conflict zones, refugee camps and natural disasters. 

This hard work pays off. Without it, 21,000 children might not have been reunited with their families and caregivers last year, and another 33,000 might be alone in dangerous environments.
Nyayjaw, 8, kisses her baby sister Nyagua whom she just met today, after being reunited with her mother. “I will never allow us to be apart again”, said their mother Nyaruon, after their tearful reunion. © UNICEF/UN014006/Rich

7. We’d lose one of the biggest sources of information about children

Here’s something UNICEF has learned through experience: problems that go unmeasured often go unsolved. If governments know which children are out of school and who is hungry, then they can act. And unless they collect data year after year - they won’t know their impact.

UNICEF is a leading source of data about children around the world. We harness advancements in technology and our huge networks to find and target the most vulnerable children: 
  • During the Ebola crisis, UNICEF used SMS messages to collect real-time data for the government in Sierra Leone. 
  • In Syria, UNICEF supported 1,200 dedicated young volunteers to run a massive door-to-door campaign to find out-of-school children, identify obstacles and help them return to class.
  • Mobile apps have helped the education systems in Burkina Faso, Lesotho and Papua New Guinea inform decisions on access to quality learning.

8. The world’s children would lose their greatest advocate

Children’s rights aren’t an abstract concept. They’re enshrined in the most rapidly and widely ratified human rights treaty in history: the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The treaty sets out every child’s right to survive, develop and reach their potential - no matter who they are or where they live.

UNICEF is the only organisation specifically named in the Convention on the Rights of the Child as a source of expert assistance and advice. That means that in every newspaper and in every parliament, UNICEF has a special role: championing the interests, opinions and rights of children. We help governments strengthen laws and policies for children and hold them accountable when they’re leaving children behind.

Stand by children through crisis and poverty

UNICEF’s work for children has never been more relevant, nor more urgent. Conflict, famine, disaster and refugee crises threaten children’s lives and futures every day.

UNICEF receives no funding from the United Nations but a group of caring people called UNICEF Global Parents help us reach the world’s most vulnerable children from right here in Australia.

Our teams and resources are pushed to the limit but each new Global Parent helps us go further, faster and reach more children in danger. Please join today and deliver the little, powerful things that save lives and shape futures: clean water, vaccinations and school bags.