Children in need

Over the last couple of days duckrabbit has had several thousand visitors in response to criticism of a photo of a girl seven year old girl undergoing female circumcision.

I’ve been really shocked that some ‘photojournalists’ don’t seem to work within a serious ethical framework; perhaps that’s to do with the fact that many of them are freelance?  Many others have expressed their concern and understand how a photo like this damages their reputation.

I received an email this morning suggesting that Bruce was unaware of the debate surrounding her photograph. That’s strange because I wrote to her on March 26th, twice. Let us not forget the Washington Post and Bruce choose to identify this girl both in name and face. They also chose to make no explanation of this extraordinary act.

I would like to re-iterate that in Ethiopia I worked with children who had been abused, raped, forced into early marriage, forced into prostitution, undergone FGM and many other abuses. Things that were incomprehensible to me before living in that wonderful country.  These are important issues, close to my heart. The problems are created by people who don’t respect children’s rights, who treat children as objects.

During my 14 months living in Ethiopia  there was never an occasion that we would identify a child who had been abused.  It’s completely unnecessary to get across the horror of their abuse.  Think about it you don’t  need to watch an actual rape to know its wrong. Listening to the victim tell their story is as powerful and you will learn more.

I wanted to end this debate by sharing with you some of the BBC producer guidelines about working with children.  I doubt if any media organization has thought about this stuff more.  These guidelines are your bible when you work at the BBC and it is a sackable offense to willingly contravene them:

BBC child protection policy

We should apply the principles of the BBC Child Protection Policy in our dealings with children and young people. In this context, children and young people refer to people under the age of 18. The welfare of someone under the age of eighteen is our paramount consideration. This means their interests and safety must take priority over any editorial requirement. All children and young people, regardless of age, disability, gender, racial or ethnic origin, religious belief and sexual identity have a right to protection from harm or abuse.

Children editorial principles

  • We must ensure that the physical and emotional welfare and the dignity of people under the age of eighteen, and in particular children under fifteen, are protected during the making and broadcast of programmes and online content, irrespective of any consent given by them or by a parent, guardian or other person in loco parentis.
  • We must ensure that children and young people are not caused unnecessary anxiety or distress by their involvement in programmes or by their broadcast. Their involvement must be clearly editorially justified and support should be given to them where necessary.

I can’t see anything either controversial or particularly debatable with these guidelines under which the picture in question would never have been published.

A word of advice, please do ignore them if you’re looking to pick up an award but don’t expect respect from the people who have actually given their lives to dealing with these kinds of problems. Like this African photographer who has written in the Guardian:

  • MsaniiD's profile picture MsaniiD

    31 Mar 09, 3:40pm (about 20 hours ago)

    I read with amazement the debate of whether to violate a child’s right to protect another. Isn’t this the case of ‘two wrongs don’t make a right‘? I am a photographer too and have been confronted many a times with such instances. But although this is not a black vs white issue, lets face it, as an african, I’ve not really seen pictures of mutilated bodies of white people published or broadcast in any ‘responsible media outlet’.

    Just last week, I was working on the same issue in East Africa, the parents of the girl allowed me to make whatever photos I wanted “You can show her face it’s okay the father told me.” But I refused and only made photos that I deemed appropriate… her clitoris was not being cut, her face was not distorted in anguish. She was telling me her story. Sharing her experience of being blinded by an attack by her schoolmates for being partially circumcised and not traditionally circumcised which demands that the entire clitoris is scooped out and the labia majora sealed with thorns!

    The fact that she was partially circumcised is not accepted. Her education has been interrupted as she can’t see. Her sister has been forced to change schools for fear of victimization. Her family is being threatened for seeking justice. I could have shown her face and the effect of the damage and have more people “do something about it” or protect her identity and to prevent further victimization.

    Maybe the two cases are different. But we (Andrea & I) are on the same side – against FGM (or at least I am) but I doubt she cares enough about that girl. I think for her, the girl was just a subject, a tool she was using to tell her story and the awards she’s getting just go to prove how powerful the tool is. By her submitting those photographs for publishing, the Washington post’s editor publishing them, and the awards which will of course splash the photographs as they publicize the winners, all, all of them have violated that girl’s rights.

    Oh maybe we want to blame her mother and aunty who by the way have probably also been circumcised and think they are doing the right thing – you see girls who are not circumcised from these communities never get married. It is considered a curse for them for a girl not to get married – I don’t support her mother’s and aunt’s action. But Andrea should know better. She has no excuse.

Andrea I withdraw, the floors yours.

Author — duckrabbit

duckrabbit is a production company formed by radio producer/journalist Benjamin Chesterton and photographer David White. We specialize in digital storytelling.

Discussion (1 Comment)

  1. Eric Smithsonian says:

    After a long look on the Washington Post’s site I failed to find anywhere to make a complaint about their coverage of this story.
    Eventually I found a form where I could ask how I could make a complaint. Apparently their ombudsman only referees the news part of the printed ‘paper. (Why?)
    The email I got back suggests comments/complaints about online content should be directed to
    I shall be letting them know what I think about their approach. It would be good to hear Andrea explain her reasoning, but I feel we may have to wait a long time.
    I hope I’m mistaken of course, I’m sure she is very busy.

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