Hanging on to childhood

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The Independent Culture
THERE can't be many people in Britain who don't know about the Save the Children Fund. It has the kind of patron every charity must pray for in the Princess Royal, and its advertising campaigns are both extensive and insistent. When it comes to finding attention-grabbing pictures for their campaigns, charities are just as competitive as commercial companies. Compassion fatigue is a visual complaint as well as an economic one, and charities are always searching for new images which will get their message across. Later this month, it will be 75 years since Eglantyne Jebb, a philanthropic late-Victorian with a degree from Lady Margaret Hall (class of 1895) and a firm belief in women's suffrage, launched the Save the Children Fund with her sister Dorothy Buxton. Their appeal at the Royal Albert Hall on 19 May 1919 was for money to help starving refugees in Europe after the First World War. They were criticised for nurturing 'children of the enemy'. Even now SCF likes to quote George Bernard Shaw's defence: 'I have no enemies under seven.'

For its anniversary year, the fund asked a group of photographers from the Magnum agency to take pictures of children in some of the 50 countries in which it works; pictures of children in their normal surroundings, not deliberately posed. Anybody who thought the Fund worked principally overseas will be surprised to see how much it does here. Eli Reed went to Leeds, where SCF works with the council to support children in care, to Darlington and to the Deptford Family Resource Centre in London. Martine Franck went to Strabane, in'Northern Ireland, and Ian Berry to Pakistan. Ferdinando Scianna photographed children in Mali, where the fund runs immunisation projects, seed distribution and feeding centres. He also went to Vietnam, where in Ho Chi Minh City SCF runs homes for street children, and is investigating the incidence of HIV and Aids.

At its most basic, the Fund aims to protect every child's right to childhood. On the following pages are a small selection of the pictures, and on page 15, a new documentary poem by Blake Morrison.