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Thematic Overview
1980 –1989  Child Survival and Development

1946 –1959   UNICEF - The Agency for Children
1960 –1979   The Development Decades
1990 –1999   Recognizing Children’s Rights
2000 –            Children and Millennium Development Goals

see also
UNICEF Milestones by Year

Child Survival and Development Revolution

As the Third Development Decade dawned, countries of
the developing world were beginning to feel the chill of global recession. It was clear, as UNICEF’s Executive Director James Grant put it that “the central issue for much of the world’s population is still life itself - that is, sheer survival. Human survival is, after all, the necessary foundation for all other human development”.

In December 1982, in his annual State of the World’s Children report, Grant launched an initiative known as ‘the child survival revolution’, whose scope later expanded to include child development.

GOBI practices
With new vaccines and new possibilities of social mobilization, UNICEF singled out four practices that collectively were referred to as ‘GOBI’: ‘G’ for growth monitoring to keep a regular check on child well-being; ‘O’ for oral rehydration therapy to treat bouts of childhood diarrhoea - the biggest single killer of children; ‘B’ for breastfeeding as the perfect nutritional start in life; and ‘I’ for immunization against the six vaccine-preventable childhood killers: tuberculosis, diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, polio and measles. One of the strengths of this prescription was that all the techniques were low-cost. These child protection techniques, along with female education, family spacing, food supplementation, protection against Vitamin A and iodine deficiencies, and other measures within the framework of basic services for children and primary health care, formed a strategy for accelerating efforts for child survival, health and development.

Universal child immunization
But the driving force behind the child survival revolution, was immunization against key childhood diseases. A target of universal child immunization (UCI) by 1990 had been set at the World Health Assembly in 1977, but by the 1980s the average level of immunization in most developing countries was still between 10 per cent and 20 per cent. A key conference in Bellagio, Italy, in March 1984 led to the formation of the Task Force for Child Survival, which involved not only UNICEF but also WHO, UNDP, the World Bank and the Rockefeller Foundation. This group agreed that immunization should be the priority not just for UNICEF’s GOBI campaign but for the whole primary health care movement. The campaign thus became far broader than UNICEF itself, as shown in the vivid phrase, ‘a grand alliance for children’.

During the 1980s, scores of developing countries conducted an all-out drive to reach a coverage rate of 75 per cent child immunization or more. This international effort, described as perhaps the greatest mobilization in peacetime history, succeeded in spite of the major cutbacks in social services necessitated by the economic recession and adjustment crisis. By the end of the decade, the child survival and development revolution was estimated to have saved the lives of 12 million children.

Adjustment with a human face
“Adjustment with a human face” published as a landmark study and prime example of UNICEF’s knowledge-based advocacy, prompted global debate on how to protect children and women from the adverse affects of economic adjustment and reform. UNICEF concluded that poor children were suffering the worst effects of the recession and made two basic recommendations: that economic adjustment policies recognize the need to preserve minimum levels of nutrition and household income; and that countries place a safety net under child health and basic education. UNICEF tried to show how low-cost CSDR approaches needed to be accompanied by economic and social actions to protect basic human needs and a country's human resource potential while coping with the economic crisis. Existing expenditures needed to be restructured towards low-cost interventions with high-effectiveness impact, and other available but often under-utilized resources also need mobilizing.

Gender development
UNICEF began to recognize that women had importance beyond their biologically or socially determined maternal roles: Women were also economic providers, organizers and leaders. Up to this point, the development process had pushed women to the margins. This exclusion from social and economic participation acted as a powerful brake on development in general. Future progress would require that investment be structured in favour of women: that development become ‘gendered’.

This shift in awareness had major implications for UNICEF. Its child survival and development prescription did have two elements that directly supported a women’s rights agenda: female education and birth spacing. But for the much more important GOBI ingredients, women were cast in an exclusively maternal role. Throughout the 1980s, therefore, UNICEF resisted becoming involved in the mainstream of the women’s cause. Towards the end of the decade, however, it recast its policy on women in development to include the language and dynamic of women’s rights, with a special focus on girls. The movement for women’s rights also coincided with resurgence of interest in children’s rights.

Children in Especially Difficult Circumstances

During the 1980’s, UNICEF recognized that many children were being damaged by forces that went beyond poverty and under development. They included child victims of mass violence and warfare, for whom practical ways were sought for implementing the concept of children as “zones” or “bridges” of peace so that help could be provided on both sides of hostilities. They also included children with disabilities and children suffering from exploitation – as workers and labourers, or as objects of commercial sexual abuse. In the mid-1980s, UNICEF coined a new term to cover all these categories of childhood disadvantage – children in especially difficult circumstances (CEDC).

UNICEF increased its participation in international efforts for compliance with international humanitarian laws and the establishment of norms for the protection and development of children everywhere. This included the adoption and implementation of a Convention on the Rights of the Child.


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