UNICEF—the acronym stands for United Nations Children's Fund—got its initials from its former name "United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund." It now focuses on the state of children's welfare in all countries on a permanent basis, not only in emergency situations. Accordingly, UNICEF's website is much more than just an information portal. It is an active part of UNICEF's work, providing data, involving the public, and raising awareness of important global issues affecting children.

First, the site is a mine of data on children's welfare, with access to aggregate and country-by-country statistics on child welfare indicators regarding birth, nutrition, education, access to sanitation and disease, to name just a few. Tracking progress in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), and now the Sustainable Development Goals is one of the centerpieces of several United Nations organizations, including UNICEF. The State of the World's Children and statistical indicators as well as data collection initiatives such as Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys / MICS3, household surveys in individual countries. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals are featured in a site entitled The World’s Largest Lesson, a set of teaching resources created by educators and students in classrooms around the world.

The site offers an excellent combination of comprehensive presentation of data, explanation of that data, and access through easily downloaded reports, data sets, and attractively presented material in multiple formats. For example, The State of the World's Children reports offer: a download of the entire report; demographic information for the whole world as a spreadsheet document or pdf file; beautiful photographs; and individual charts and graphs.

The most extraordinary aspect of the website is the extent to which children themselves are featured in photographs, videos, interviews and other media. As might be expected, there is an increased emphasis on children and migration issues, such as Children Uprooted, which features a wide range of resources, photo essays, and first-person accounts, statements of their rights and ways to protect them. The range of countries and issues represented is extraordinarily diverse, putting faces to child abuse programs, youth with disabilities, and many other ways in which youth are advocating for causes and helping themselves and others in concrete ways. These contributions are not poster children eliciting donations, but calls to action and testimony to individual determination and constructive effort. Voices of Youth is a section of the site where youth can gather information on the important issues, learn about UNICEF initiatives that address them, and participate in discussion forums and activities related to these causes. There are several sections here and in other places on the site for video contests, participation in leadership forums with world leaders, youth reports on local initiatives, artwork displays, and the like. Teachers will find a lot of material here with which to stimulate discussion, research and create lesson material in a wide variety of disciplines.
A few examples show how the site supports UNICEF's focus on engaging children directly. The "Child-Friendly Report" Have Fun, Be Safe is about everyday safety and injury prevention, addressing standards of living involving rural cooking over open fires, congested cities where children walk and ride bikes in traffic, addressing the full range of human economic and social conditions. The document's chapters on topics such as burns, falls, traffic safety, and poisoning are available separately in five languages that include comic strips, games and illustrated text—perfect for language instruction that provides more than practice texts.. The Voices of Youth section of the UNICEF site includes input from children who would otherwise be unheard and invisible.

Teachers of modern history and regional or world geography will find a wealth of primary sources on this site that can contribute to filling in a realistic picture of children's situations and the economic, public health, scientific, social, cultural, and political issues that affect them, as well as initiatives of remarkable creativity that are currently being employed to address them. There is much material to use here for comparison with earlier global development efforts, historical situations that helped create these complex challenges, and much to draw upon for engaging discussion and inviting participation.

Reviewed by Susan Douglass, Georgetown University
How to Cite This Source
Susan Douglass, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in World History Commons,