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International Year of the Child

In 1976, during the thirty-first session of the United Nations General Assembly, 1979 was proclaimed as the International Year of the Child (IYC). Countries around the world were encouraged to set aside this period of time to focus attention on the 1.5 billion children who then populated the Earth. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) directed the IYC, which was headed by Estefania Aldaba-Lim, of the Philippines. A total of 151 nations took part in IYC.

In the United States, President Jimmy Carter signed an executive order creating a National Commission for the International Year of the Child, and named Jean Childs Young, wife of then-UN Ambassador Andrew Young, as its chairman. The Commission, comprising private citizens and members of Congress, encouraged all Americans to develop a new level of awareness of the special needs of children growing up in a complex, highly competitive society. To achieve this result the Commission promoted and coordinated the activities of federal government agencies and more than 400 national organizations. It also initiated and publicized specific activities and programs relating to the welfare of children through direct contact with governors, mayors, civic leaders, child advocacy groups, heads of national organizations and corporations, and children themselves in organizing their roles in the observance. Congress appropriated no funds for the Commission, so all activities were financed by local governments and/or private donors.

Activities sponsored by the Commission and its members ranged from parades and art exhibits to seminars on child abuse and health care for the young.

In Poland, children gave the Order of the Smile, engraved with the motto, "All Children Are Ours," to an adult who made a major contribution to the well-being of children. The award, an annual event in Poland, kept to the IYC's theme by honoring an international figure for the first time.

Greece, Yugoslavia, and West Germany devised special programs for children of migrant workers.

Spain put a provision in its Constitution, promulgated on December 27, 1978, saying, "Children will benefit from the protection stipulated in international agreements intended to protect their rights."

Liberia began its Decade of the Liberian Child with IYC.

Trinidad and Tobago concentrated on helping handicapped children.

UNICEF sponsored an international exhibit called Pictures from a Small Planet, a collection of paintings that showed the world as children (aged 5 to 15) view it. Judges selected pictures that expressed the special regional or national character of the young people's cultures. Despite vast cultural differences, however, most of the young artists focused on universal subjects -- play, school, holidays, work, and family.

Procession in the Street, by Sevgul Bora, Turkey
Procession in the Street

Making Hay, by Amy Hankee, 8, United States
Making Hay

Parade, by Francesca Bionda, 8, Italy

A View of a Town, by R. Q. Mensah, 13, Ghana
A View of a Town

Going to the Country, by Herman Trujillo,10, Puerto Rico
Going to the Country

Loaded Truck, by Krassimir Ivanov, 7, Bulgaria
Loaded Truck

Blue Night Sky, by Bui-thi Phuong-ly, 10, Vietnam
Blue Night Sky

Although many nations observed IYC, few actually had the resources to do much more than talk about issues concerning children. Although the long-term impact of any specific program carried out during the year was probably minimal, the IYC did increase the world's awareness of such serious issues as child labor, teenage pregnancy, high suicide rates among teenagers, and many others.


Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia 1980 Yearbook New York: Funk & Wagnalls, Inc., 1980
The World Book Year Book 1979 Chicago: World Book-Childcraft International, Inc., 1979

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This page was last updated on January 01, 2019.