Children Snap their Rights
By Ruth Ayisi
They leapt to their feet when their names were announced as the winners. Each rushed to the stage, beaming at the many clicking cameras that spontaneously surround them.
Before the five-day workshop, many of the girls and boys aged between 9 and 17 years, from diverse backgrounds, had never used a camera. By the end of the workshop, not only do most show remarkable skills in digital photography, but they have learnt how to use images to transmit strong messages about children’s rights in Mali, one of the world’s poorest countries. The photograph voted as having the strongest message shows a young boy begging in the market.
“You can use photography to show the difficulties children face so that people can help them,” says 15- year-old Kany Sylla, who was voted by the other children as the best photographer.
Séga Diallo, 17, says “I want to use photos to show the suffering of the children in the streets, particularly those who are begging.“
Moustaph, 15 years, who attends a Koranic school, says, “I learnt that zooming on a little detail, you can say a lot of things. For example, taking the picture of a child’s bare feet can tell you about poverty.”
Marcel Rudasingwa, UNICEF Representative in Mali, commented that, “We need to continually make space for children to tell us their ideas so we understand how they view their world and what they feel they need. This exhibition has given them space to express through images the different aspects of child rights, particularly in the area of health, nutrition, child protection, education and play.”
The best of the hundreds of photographs the children took will be selected to show in an exhibition during the Bamako Encounters- 8th African Photography Biennial in November and December to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
Giacomo Pirozzi, an international photographer who facilitated the workshop, first projected children’s images that he had taken all over the world on a large screen for the children to appreciate. “They see how other children live in other countries and then they start to identify with them,” says Pirozzi. “They begin to see how powerful photography is and how they can use it. When it comes to the point when they have to decide what to take pictures of, they immediately understand it is a good opportunity for them to talk about their world.”
However, it was not as easy as the children first thought. Both the weather and the subjects were not cooperative at first. It poured with rain the morning they were due to go outside to take pictures. When the weather improved, hoards of angry people in the market stood in their way. Even Kany, the most bold in the group, became intimidated and hid her camera.
Finally, a young teenage boy in the midst of the crowd introduced himself. “I’m Alasan,” he said. Alasan, a 14-year-old boy living on the street, had been interviewed a few months earlier by UNICEF after he had been reunited with his mother by an NGO. He was back again on the streets, this time in Bamako, 500 kilometres away from home. Once the other youth in the market saw the warm rapport between Alasan and the facilitators, they relaxed, and many of them allowed the children to take photographs. The children learnt about the importance of fostering a rapport with their subjects.
Alasan represents many of the challenges that Mali face. He is vulnerable to all kinds of abuse. In a study conducted in Mali in 2008 with UNICEF support on the knowledge, awareness and practices with regards to women’s and children’s’ rights, only 4 out of 10 children claim to know their rights, 9 children out of 10 declare that they had been subject to some kind of physical violence and 8.8 per cent say that they had been victims of trafficking. Many children are also subjected to other forms of exploitative labour.
Some gains can be noted, points out Rudasingwa, decision-makers are more aware of child rights. For example, there are protocols between Mali and Guinea, as well as Mali and the Ivory Coast against child trafficking, in order to protect children who are being transported to neighbouring countries to work most often in the plantations. “Results have been achieved and progress has been made. But it is not enough. We need to scale up cost effective interventions that can yield returns on a large scale. Government, civil society and especially the communities themselves have to be fully involved and be active partners rather than just beneficiaries. Children also have to play a role, especially sharing their experiences and their views on the world. Giving a voice to children from diverse backgrounds, like those in this workshop, is really important.”