Chance for Childhood has long worked with street-connected children and we are proud members of the Consortium for Street Children. Consortium for Street Children is a global alliance that acts as the voice of street children to promote good practice, and challenge and change the systems that cause harm. We are delighted that Consortium for Street Children has taken the OverExposed pledge. Here Siân Wynne, Director of Programmes for Network, Practice and Children’s Participation, reflects on why Overexposed is so important for street-connected children.
Over the past near-decade in the ‘sector’, I have, like many, faced challenges when it comes to effectively communicating the realities of street-connected children’s lives to donors, governments and others whose support and cooperation we rely on to make our important work possible. Although there have been some notable wins, like recognition from the UN that street-connected children have specific challenges and needs, NGOs working with and for children on the street still struggle to communicate the complexity of these young people’s lives and needs to audiences who may come with their own assumptions about who street-connected children are, how they look, what their lives are like, and how they should be supported.
When we seek support for our work, it can be easy to forget that our responsibility to the children we support extends beyond our programmes, to how we communicate about them.
As a network dedicated to promoting and protecting the rights of street-connected children, Consortium for Street Children (CSC)’s work reflects international child rights law and recommendations of the UN. But even the most ‘rights-based’ and child-centred programmes are compromised if the same approach isn’t also applied to how we gather and share photos and videos, and how we support children and communities to participate in telling their stories.
Street-connected children are one of the most marginalised populations in the world; they face violence and abuse, are excluded from their communities and are unable to access basic services like healthcare and education. Because of the way they have been treated, these children are understandably distrustful of adults, and gaining their trust is the first step in supporting them. Being honest, transparent and accountable to children is essential to maintain that trust. Taking photographs, recording, writing down and sharing children’s stories in a way which does not centre their best interests and respect their rights risks breaking that trust, and well-meaning practitioners being chalked up as ‘just another adult that’s let me down’.
Using the lens of children’s rights can help us understand the complexity of street-connected children’s lives and the implications of the images and stories we share about them.
- Children have the right not to be discriminated against. Yet, street-connected children face discrimination and stigma every day, all too often labelled by authorities and the public as ‘criminals’, ‘dirty’ or a ‘nuisance’, and treated accordingly. Some will see street children as victims – ‘helpless’, ‘pathetic’ and in need of ‘rescue’. These stigmatising views can be reinforced by images and stories which fail to represent children as rights holders, with strengths, aspirations and the capacity to make decisions about their lives.
- Children have the right to have their voices heard and participate in decisions about their lives. So often children’s stories, voices and realities are used externally to meet communications and fundraising needs, without us really listening to what they are saying, and considering the implications for how we support them. When we are looking for ‘success stories’, what other stories, and children, are we overlooking?
- Children have the right to information about their rights. Street-connected children we ask to participate in fundraising and communications activities should have all of the information they require to understand their rights in relation to their image and stories, how they will be used and shared, and how it will, or will not, benefit them, their family and community so that they can make an informed decision.
- Children have the right to assemble peacefully on the street or in other public spaces free from harassment. Information we share could be used to pinpoint where and when street-connected children are on the street and target them with harassment, violence or ‘round-ups’.
- Children have the right to privacy, honour and reputation. Sharing personal information about street-connected children without a guarantee of who will see or reuse it risks violating this right, as does the possibility of children being evicted from their homes and schools as a result of images and stories we share.
Using this rights lens helps us see how important it is that anything children choose to share with us is treated with respect and care, and we honour our responsibility to them.
At Consortium for Street Children, using this rights-based approach to our fundraising and communications has led us to phase out the use of identifying imagery from most of our materials and online activity. It occurred to us, as it has to others, that we cannot guarantee that children whose images we use fully understand the incredibly complex implications of their face being ‘out there’, especially when it is attached to information about where and how they live.
It is easy to view this approach as ‘limiting’ the way we can communicate our work and win support. But there is no simple snapshot or quick fix for children who rely on the street to survive, and as organisations working to improve their lives, representing children as the rightsholders they are, and being confident in explaining why, is all part of our job.
Chance for Childhood’s OverExposed campaign is highlighting the power and responsibility we hold when we collect stories and images of children and asks us to prioritise the rights and well-being of children who share their stories with us. Making this pledge can help us avoid becoming ‘just another adult that’s let them down’.
Consortium for Street Children is pleased to support the OverExposed campaign and pledge to continue to reframe our thinking on the use of stories and images of children.
If you would like to pledge as an individual click here
If you would like to pledge as an organisation click here