United Nations Children’s Fund: Women or Children First?

By Douglas A. Sylva, Ph.D. | October 8, 2003

The paper demonstrates that UNICEF has abandoned its initial focus on helping children and re-focused on advocating for sexual and reproductive rights.  In the second half of the 1990s, under director Carol Bellamy, UNICEF joined various controversial initiatives such as the Safe Motherhood Initiative whose members include prominent abortion-providers such as International Planned Parenthood (IPPF). UNICEF also signed “The UN International Guidelines on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights,” which openly asserts the right to abortion.

The paper goes on to point out the increasing cooperation of UNICEF with other agencies such as UNFPA in population programming involved in sterilization and contraception provision in the developing world.  The author methodically lists the programs funded by UNICEF or in which UNICEF participated.  He confronts them with UNICEF’s very statements to the contrary, such as its strategic plans, in which UNICEF denies involvement in providing contraception while at the same time funding NGOs that participated in such programs.

In the final sections, the author focuses on how UNICEF leverages its new expertise in its child programming.  For example, it funded youth groups, which advocate permissive sexual behaviors and provide children with information about abortion providers.  The paper also includes official statements from UNICEF directed at US Department of State officials concerned with UNICEF’s youth programming that conceal UNICEF’s involvement with such groups as the abortion provider Mary Stopes International.  The paper ends with a discussion of UNICEF’s turn towards feminist philosophy and recommends more gender-balanced programming, which would refrain from feminist re-education programs directed at boys, and refocus its programming on children per se.

Douglas A. Sylva holds a Ph.D, in political theory from Columbia University and was the Director of the International Organizations Research Group (IORG) from 2001-2003.