Most infants born to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-infected women escape HIV infection. Infants evade infection despite an immature immune system and, in the case of breastfeeding, prolonged repetitive exposure. If infants become infected, the course of their infection and response to treatment differs dramatically depending upon the timing (in utero, intrapartum, or during breastfeeding) and potentially the route of their infection. Perinatally acquired HIV infection occurs during a critical window of immune development. HIV's perturbation of this dynamic process may account for the striking age-dependent differences in HIV disease progression. HIV infection also profoundly disrupts the maternal immune system upon which infants rely for protection and immune instruction. Therefore, it is not surprising that infants who escape HIV infection still suffer adverse effects. In this review, we highlight the unique aspects of pediatric HIV transmission and pathogenesis with a focus on mechanisms by which HIV infection during immune ontogeny may allow discovery of key elements for protection and control from HIV.