United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
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 portals for 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) is one of the centerpieces of several United Nations organizations, including UNICEF. A good summary portal is the sidebar link to ChildInfo, which highlights UNICEF's flagship publications, The State of the World's Children and Progress for Children, and also provides quick links to individual statistical indicators as well as data collection initiatives such as Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys / MICS3, household surveys in individual countries.
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 2009 The State of the World's Children report mentioned above offers: 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. Several other studies are available in this way, through multiple links that allow a user to browse the site by interest areas and still reach all of the important information sources. The site also features a well-organized, user-friendly menu bar similar to an FAQ approach, such as "What We Do," "Why We Do It," "UNICEF People," and others. The graphics are colorful but not cluttered.
The most extraordinary aspect of the website is the extent to which children themselves are featured in photographs, videos, interviews and other media. 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, and digital diaries, 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 second example is the Unite for Child Survival, Radio Drama Contest, which emphasizes the wide access of radio over other media and engages children's creativity to reinforce messages about children's health and welfare. Digital Diaries on the Voices of Youth section of the UNICEF site include input from children who would otherwise be unheard and invisible, such as Yemetu youth speak out on water and sanitation.
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.
How to Cite This Source
Susan Douglass, "United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)," in Children and Youth in History, Item #249, http://chnm.gmu.edu/cyh/website-reviews/249 (accessed December 19, 2013).