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“Aid porn” and child protection in the current refugee crisis

September 20, 2015

As the refugee crisis continues in Europe, with thousands of families fleeing Syria, Iraq and other war-torn countries, it is most often the images of the children that grab at our hearts and bring tears to our eyes. The image of little Alyan lying on the beach in Turkey…the mother falling down on the train tracks in Hungary clutching her baby…the father carrying his son who was tripped up by a journalist as he ran away from police…and most recently, images of refugees, including babies and small children, being tear-gassed on the Hungary – Serbia border.

 

But while images such as these might shock people and make them want to do something – anything – for the refugees, often when NGOs use such images to raise funds, they can be exploitative and even harmful to children. Child safeguarding policies and codes of conduct for organisations should include guidelines for using images of children, and those images need to avoid appearing as what has often been termed “aid porn”. This term makes many feel uncomfortable, as it should. Using images of dead or injured children, or children who are clearly in emotional distress, harms the dignity of the child and is a dangerous intrusion on their rights to privacy and protection.

 

When organisations use images of children, they should always be portrayed in a dignified manner, and shown as a member of their family and community. Images should provide an accurate portrayal of the situation, and children and their families should be shown as rights-holders, not objects of charity or pity. Certainly, images of children in distress should be avoided at all costs. Children need to be adequately clothed, and the name and location of a child should always be changed.

 

Often there are tensions and disagreement between marketing, fundraising, or communications staff members, and program staff, around how children should be portrayed. Many times the argument is put forward that sad or distressed-looking children will “sell” more than happy –looking children. While some people may be more inclined to open their wallets and donate based on heart-wrenching images, organisations must try harder to accurately communicate the message that funds are being raised to help communities to support themselves. In other words, children and their communities should be shown to be rights holders, with their dignity intact and their identity protected.

 

Furthermore, in the current context of the refugee crisis, simply showing images of dead children and distressed families does not accurately portray the complex political, social, and historical context of people on the move. It does not show how difficult it can be for people to claim asylum in some countries, which is often the reason why people will continue to try and reach a country that is deemed to be “safe” and where they feel their claims will be accurately and efficiently processed.

 

While children are more vulnerable than adults – for the simple fact that they rely on adults for their basic needs – they are also resilient, and with appropriate support and care, are often able to overcome traumatic or distressing events that occur in their lives. But even with the best of intentions, children can be further victimised by the way they are portrayed in the media or in organisational marketing materials.

 

Child Safe Horizons can work with your organisation’s marketing, fundraising, communications, and program teams to understand how to protect children from further victimisation, and how to educate the public about issues such as the refugee crisis, without resorting to “aid porn” and other inappropriate strategies. We believe that all children have the right to a life of dignity and protection from abuse and exploitation, and we can help your organisation safeguard the children you work with.

 

See also - https://www.crin.org/en/home/campaigns/child-rights-and-refugee-crisis/stop-aid-porn

 

 

 

 

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