OverExposed was inspired by our newest partner, Glad’s House Kenya who work with the children and young people living on the streets of Mombasa, Kenya. When we started working with them, they were clear that they would not share images of children’s faces with us. This triggered the conversations we had here at Chance for Childhood that led to the creation of the campaign.
Here the founder of Glad’s House Kenya, Bokey Achola, shares his reflections on the challenges of using images of children in vulnerable situations and the impact he has seen since implementing this change in 2017.
“For a long time, children in Mombasa didn’t feel happy about people taking their photos, they felt that people were making money from them. For example, people will take photos of a child who is hungry and campaign to get funds to feed the children. But that child doesn’t get to see that food. It’s frustrating for them when life is so hard.”
“The world is smaller now,” Bokey reflected. “You can easily lose control of the image you share, and it can be used somewhere else. If the image is misused, the child will know where that photo came from so it brings hostility toward the adults that should be keeping them safe. You might take a picture of a child when they are 9 years old, but what happens when they see it when they are 16? That image will haunt them forever. Children will be defined for the rest of their lives by a moment in time. For example, some children turn to substance misuse to cope with the trauma they are experiencing. Taking a picture of them with a glue bottle is not who they are, it is a tiny piece of their situation.”
“Photos of children should show their strength, joy and determination, not their vulnerability”
When asked about the changes he has seen since deciding not to show faces of children and young people in photos, Bokey told us:
“We now have a lot of conversations with the children, informing them about the importance of knowing who is taking their photos, where the photo is being used, who will be the end beneficiary and how will they benefit from the photo being taken. This has really impacted them and these days they don’t allow people to take their photos. I remember there was a workshop we were delivering, and we told the children we wouldn’t take photos. Someone started taking a video and one young person stopped the workshop and said, ‘no, we had an agreement that no photos would be taken, why are you going back on that?’ It really showed us the impact and importance of ensuring children know their rights when it comes to using their images and stories. It is also now much easier for street workers to do their job.
By not taking photos, it allows children to build trust and confidence in the street workers and they know that they are on their side. Because of these changes, children’s confidence in us has risen, they know that we have their best intentions at heart.”
When talking to Bokey about the challenges of removing images he reflected, “Most donors want to see children at the exact situation they are in. They have never encountered children in street situations so they want to see those children in that space, so they can tell their stories. It is an advantage to them but not an advantage to the children.
“We have led a big campaign in Mombasa with other organisations about how they use photos, but they always reach difficulties. They will always say, ‘how will our donors know what we are doing?’ So, people are still glued to using pictures of children in poverty, but we are making strides by empowering the children, who are the victims of these images, to say no or ask questions. The other day, someone was watching one of our Street Soccer sessions held in a public space and he was taking photos. All the children went over to him and made him delete the photos; they could do that because they knew their rights.”
Whilst he sees some change, Bokey told us, “Real change only comes if INGO or international donors don’t ask for the photos, funders should understand that depicting a child in a vulnerable situation is not good for the life of the child.”
Finally, we asked Bokey, how it felt being the grassroots organisation that had inspired this, he told us; “It brings me joy. But the biggest joy is that this is a win for children. It is a win for all the children who have been mistreated in the way their images have been used until now.”
From all of us at Chance for Childhood and in the sector – Bokey, thank you for the inspiration!