On a recent trip to Bolivia, while in the picturesque Lake Titicaca, I saw an indigenous child, no older than six years of age, looking after a white llama. He was quietly observing a group of Australian guys in their twenties who kept taking pictures with him. After a few photos, the child became uncomfortable as he kept covering his face, and when one of them attempted to go on top of the llama, the child shouted something in Aymara, clearly distressed.
I confronted the group, asking how they would like it if an indigenous Bolivian man went to their home town and took pictures of Australian babies and children to post on the internet. Instead of reasoning, they got angry and, of course, kept clicking away. For the travellers, this child did not deserve the respect and consideration that they afford the children back home. He was a tourist attraction, providing them with the perfect image to brag about on their social media accounts.
This encounter has only confirmed my view that western travellers should stop taking pictures of children in developing nations and posting them on their social media accounts. The fact that there are no laws stopping them from taking pictures of children in poverty-stricken nations, without permission, doesn’t mean it is right to do so. It is quite hypocritical, considering they wouldn’t do that in their own countries without the parents’ consent. We can’t allow the double standards when it comes to photographing children.
Celebrities can be the worst offenders when it comes to posting pictures of babies in third-world nations to show their fans that they are doing good work helping others. However, by doing this, they are perpetrating the “white-saviour” stereotype. This was in the news recently when Labour MP David Lammy criticised Stacey Dooley for posing with black children on Instagram for a recent trip for Comic Relief.
Regardless of how pure the intentions are, there is no justification in uploading pictures of children and babies to promote a charity or organisation. What happened to doing things quietly? We can change the world without telling social media. It has been done since ancient times.
Contrast this with photojournalism – as a responsible example of how a picture can be worth a thousand words. Photojournalists are trained professionals whose work tells us what is happening in the world via photography, and there is nothing self-serving or promotional about what they do. The 2019 winner of the prestigious World Press Photo Award was a poignant photo taken near the US-Mexico border. A two-year-old girl was shown crying while the border police searched her mother. This picture touched the hearts of many the world over, and even made president Trump sign an executive order ending migrant family separations. The photojournalist did his work and effectively so.
However, celebrities and western travellers are not photojournalists on assignments, and they must take responsibility for their own actions. In the west, if someone were to take random pictures of children, that person could be in trouble. The same principle should apply when westerners and their charitable organisations go to other countries too.
For those who truly want to help children in war-torn nations, there are ways of doing this without showing photos of minors on social media. If your aim is to help them, you should want to protect them and this starts with protecting their privacy. For the tourist travelling the world thinking it is his or her oyster, it’s time to get a fine if caught photographing children without consent. Bring back memories of the landscape, food and culture, but leave the children alone.