UNICEF's role can be appropriately summarized by the following quotations from its mission statement, adopted by its executive board in January 1996:

UNICEF is mandated by the United Nations General Assembly to advocate for the protection of children's rights, to help meet their basic needs and to expand their opportunities to reach their full potential. ... UNICEF aims, through its country programmes, to promote the equal rights of women and girls and to support their full participation in the political, social and economic development of their communities.

UNICEF pursues its advocacy and educational role at all levels and in all possible fora. The World

Summit for Children at the UN in New York in September 1990 attracted 71 heads of state and government and also ministers or other senior officials from 88 other countries—at the time the largest gathering of world leaders in history. In May 2002, the UN General Assembly held a special session on children, which was notable for the unique and active participation of approximately 400 children from more than 150 countries. UNICEF had facilitated the collection in these countries of key information about children's rights and well-being to assess progress made for children since the 1990 World Summit. Nutrition (and other) indicators for each country in the world are published in the annual State of the World's Children reports.

UNICEF's programming role is essentially a country activity, conducted by the UNICEF representatives and their staff in close collaboration with officials of concerned government departments (e.g., of planning, health, education, and social affairs ministries) and in consultation with representatives of other UN agencies and NGOs. The country programming process, which begins with a situation analysis (describing the situation of women and children in the country and reviewing past programs of cooperation and potential areas of future cooperation), is intended to ensure that the UNICEF country program relates to the needs of children and women in the country, is fully integrated into the government program, reflects government policy and programs as well as policies established for UNICEF by its board, and is complementary to assistance provided by other multilateral and bilateral agencies. The process involves balancing a global ethic with country priorities, but there need be no inconsistency between setting international and national goals and targets and at the same time working to empower local partners to participate in progress toward improved nutrition. 'Bottom-up' advance need not be an alternative to 'top-down' advocacy and policy development.

UNICEF operates one of the largest supply networks in the UN system. In 2001, it procured $596 million worth of supplies relating to health, education, water and sanitation, and nutrition products, including 40% of global vaccine doses for children.

UNICEF works closely with other UN agencies concerned with nutrition, particularly WHO, FAO, WFP, and the World Bank. A long-standing mechanism for harmonization of policies with WHO exists in the form of a Joint Committee on Health Policy (now including UNFPA). UNICEF is a major supporter of the United Nations System Standing Committee on Nutrition (SCN). The SCN (which evolved from the earlier PAG) currently has 19 UN members and also representatives of other agencies, bilateral donors, and NGOs; it is the focal point for promoting harmonized nutrition policies and strategies throughout the UN system and for strengthening collaboration with other partners.

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