Finland received support from UNICEF after the war in the 1940s, but changed from a recipient to a donor of assistance only a few years later. In 2013, Finland served as Chairman of the Executive Board of UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, for the first time.
“The most important issue discussed by the Board during the year was the adoption of UNICEF’s strategic plan,” says Ambassador Jarmo Viinanen, Finland’s Permanent Representative to the UN, who handled the chairmanship.
The long-pending plan will guide the organization’s work over the next four years.
According to Viinanen, the decisions on UNICEF’s gender equality activities and the evaluation of programmes taken during the year are important, as both issues are among Finland’s priorities. He says that the organization wants to achieve more results.
“The funds used for children’s best interests come mainly from the taxpayers. It is important that resources are used efficiently and productively,” he continues.
“Gender equality above all is about the realization of girls’ rights with regard to schoolgoing. In many countries, girls are taken out of school when labour is needed at home or if education is too expensive for parents. Sometimes the issue may be that the school lacks separate toilets for girls,” Viinanen explains.
An important aspect of gender equality work is the reduction of child marriages and ending them completely.
UNICEF's Executive Board intensified its cooperation with the World Bank during Finland’s chairmanship of the Executive Board.
“World Bank President Jim Kim attended a UNICEF Executive Board meeting for the first time. The event was very successful and it has been possible to intensify cooperation between the organizations since then,” Viinanen says with pleasure.
“UNICEF differs from many UN agencies in that rather few political passions are associated with UNICEF. Everyone wants what’s best for children, although with slightly different emphases,” Viinanen states.
According to Viinanen, during the Executive Board chairmanship period Finland was able to exert influence so that issues important to Finland received in-depth treatment and decisions concerning them were adopted, thereby contributing to the implementation of children’s rights.
Ambassador Viinanen considers the year as Chairman of the Executive Board rewarding, interesting and full of work. He had the opportunity to learn about the organization’s work in its New York-based headquarters but also in Africa and Europe.
“It was great to see how wonderfully the UNICEF people carry out their work, which is often difficult and demanding. A similar commitment also prevailed on the Executive Board, whose members had the patience to set aside everyday political disputes and give precedence to the child’s best interests at all times.”
UNICEF is a significant actor in humanitarian crises. Children suffer the most in Syria’s ongoing war. About 5.5 million children have been caught up in the war, and more than a million have fled the country.
Despite deterioration of the security situation and limited access to many areas, UNICEF supplies assistance both inside Syria and to neighbouring areas.
More than three million Syrian children have been forced to leave school unfinished.
“There is the danger that we will lose a generation of Syrian children because of this. UNICEF delivers education packages with learning materials as help for temporary education,” Viinanen says.
Children who have left school face the threat of child labour, early marriage and child recruitment into the armed forces.
In addition, UNICEF delivers winter clothing and equipment to Syria and maintains various vaccination programmes. Cases of measles have been detected in Syria and most recently, there have been indications of the risk of a wide polio epidemic. Prevention of this requires determined efforts.
“Ensuring clean water and sanitation in refugee camps and other residential areas also ranks highly in the organization’s work,” Viinanen says.
UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, is the world’s leading and largest children’s organization. It has worked for more than 60 years in almost 200 countries and regions to promote the rights, protection and development of children.
The United Nations Children’s Fund is the world's leading provider of vaccines in developing countries, it supports children’s health and nutrition, finances access to clean water and sanitation, promotes quality education and works to protect children from violence, exploitation and disease.
UNICEF is funded on a voluntary basis one hundred per cent. Funding is made up of donations from private persons, enterprises, foundations and governments.
In 2013, Finnish general support to the organization was 21.2 million euros. In addition, 8.5 million euros was given to support the organization’s humanitarian activities.