November 20 is the anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the rights of the child (UNCRC), approved in 1989. A milestone for minors, who for the first time were not seen as passive objects that had to be assisted, but rather as individuals who are actively involved in the decisions making-process. Yet, this acquisition of ‘dignity’, often used by the West to claim a kind of superiority vis-à-vis the rest of the world, is still being constantly violated at present. It happens in plain sight, but we are so used to it, that no one notices it anymore.
The indiscriminate use of images by associations and non-governmental organizations to collect money for humanitarian aid and international solidarity, although wrapped in noble intentions, is the latest violence perpetrated by our modern society on the so-called Third World. Periodically, in fact, during the Christmas and Easter periods, are made promotional campaigns whose style is almost always the same: portraits of severely malnourished and wheezing African children with swollen stomachs, and blank looks; those images have one sole effect: speculation on suffering.
Some people defend this approach, mainly by stressing its humanitarian purpose and by making their own the idea that “the end justifies the means”; other people condemn messages based on clichés such as that of the little African skeleton, considered to be a means of turning suffering into a show, cruel to the point of being described as ‘pornography of pain”.
Whatever our own opinion, one question is licit: is it really necessary to use such strong images or should we prefer a form of communication that is more respectful of the population we want to help? It is no coincidence that this topic reaches today the Chamber of Deputies, where will be presented the awareness campaign “Images Kill as Well”, promoted by the network of the African Black Diaspora in Italy (REDANI). The main idea is to put forward proposals that will involve the social actors and the institutions involved in the Third Sector, and to raise awareness of all citizens on that question, to promote a debate on the need of a law to prevent abuses and exploitation of images of suffering, recognizing a Code of Conduct.
We have made some steps forward over the years. For example, Article 7 of the Charter of Treviso – i.e., the code of ethics of the Italian journalists with regard to minors – reads as follows: “In cases concerning minors who are sick, injured, disadvantaged or in difficulty we must show special attention and sensitivity in disseminating images and events so as to avoid arriving at sensationalism that ends up transforming into exploitation of that person in the name of a pitiful feeling. A moral imperative that admits no exceptions and whose validity goes beyond skin colour or the country of origin.
Yet, far from being close to a solution, the massive use of social networking as a source of information has opened a new front with respect to this problem. Pictures of the French raid in Raqqa, especially the one with a father who is crying his pain out to heaven while holding his dead son in his arms, is actually a fake, i.e., a picture that is not true with respect to the described event. Unfortunately the pain of that father is true: the image dates back to 2014 and concerns the bombings in Aleppo at the hands of the Syrian troops, but it has nothing to do with Hollande’s decision to raise French fighters to destroy ISIS stronghold. It is another way to take advantage of images of children in pain and death, to appeal to the consciences of the others.
This little respect for children, even beyond death, must be stopped. I.e. the use of pictures of those who cannot defend themselves, cannot sue anyone, who do not even know they had become the involuntary protagonist of a media campaign, be it foundraising or political propaganda. A slap in the face of every child’s dignity.