Childers, Erskine Barton (1929–96), broadcaster, writer, and United Nations official, was born 11 March 1929 in Dublin, eldest of two sons and four daughters of Erskine Hamilton Childers (qv), politician, and Ruth Childers (née Dow), of New Hampshire, USA. Educated at Newtown in Co. Waterford and then at TCD, where he studied modern languages and history, he subsequently attended Stanford University in California, USA, specialising in international relations, and serving as vice-president of the National Students' Association. After working as trainee manager for Qantas Airways in Australia in the early 1950s, he pursued a career as a broadcaster and writer. He travelled to Africa to make documentaries for the BBC and published Common sense about the Arab world (1960) and The road to Suez (1962), which responded to the demonisation of the Egyptian leader Col. Nasser. He maintained a passionate interest in, and admiration for, Arab civilisation throughout his life.
From 1967 to 1989 he worked across many regions for several United Nations organisations. Based initially in Bangkok, Thailand, directing aid and development across Asia, he pioneered the technique of propagating the results of individual programmes to enable one country to learn from another. In 1974 he became world director of communications for the UN development agencies, based in New York. An expert in economic development, he later served as senior adviser to the UN director for development and international economic cooperation till 1989. After his retirement, he joined with Sir Brian Urquhart to write A world in need of leadership: tomorrow's United Nations (1990). Further collaboration with Urquhart saw the publication of three works on the need to reorganise the UN secretariat, on strengthening the international response to humanitarian emergencies, and on renewing the UN system. Although a longtime UN employee, he condemned aspects of the organisation's performance and was hugely critical of the manner in which he felt it was constrained by the self-interest of major western countries, led by the US. Observing that the benefits of development aid were offset by the denial of fair trading opportunities to poorer countries, Childers believed that the main industrial nations were preventing the UN from exercising the global economic leadership that its founders intended. He criticised the Gulf war (1991) as motivated to protect oil supplies and profits, and accused the US, Britain, and France of using their permanent membership of the security council to undermine peace-keeping operations.
Combining strong opinions with thoughtful analysis, he was a passionate believer in justice for developing countries and constantly researched, wrote, and lectured on the issue. He died 25 August 1996 in Luxembourg shortly after speaking at the fiftieth anniversary congress of the World Federation of United Nations Federations, an organisation of which he was secretary-general. He married – and later divorced – Sonia Baker, an Australian, with whom he adopted two daughters. He then married (1970) Mallica Vatrathon of Bangkok, a UN sociologist; they had one son, Erskine Caesar. In 1996 he had another son, (Patrick Seán) David Barton Childers, with his partner Marjolijn Snippe.