by Rupali Goswami, Save the Children, India
At the 1924 League of Nations convention in Geneva, Eglantyne Jebb, founder of Save the Children, presented a Declaration of the Rights of the Child to leaders from around the world. Written by her, these were what she believed to be the human rights of every child. Stressing the need to especially remember “forgotten” children, Eglantyne said, “the child that is hungry must be fed, the child that is sick must be nursed, the child that is backward must be helped, the delinquent child must be reclaimed, and the orphan and the waif must be sheltered and succoured.”
The declaration was adopted a year later, in 1925, and adopted in an extended form by the United Nations in 1959. The declaration later inspired the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, a landmark human rights treaty.
India is a signatory of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). The Right to Participation or right to be heard, form association, and seek and share information are all an integral part of the UNCRC.
Other child-related policies also prioritize the Right to Participation – including the 2013 National Policy for Children and the 2016 National Plan of Action for Children.
According to the UNCRC, children have the right to freely express their thoughts, views and opinions, and “participate in society, particularly in the areas affecting them. Their voices must be seriously taken into account”.
For Save the Children, children’s participation and accountability are part of the core values. Children’s participation refers to children having the opportunity to take part in activities that will help them achieve their dreams and aspirations, express a view, influence decision-making, and to contribute towards achieving change. Participation is not about ‘doing something nice for and with children – it is a fundamental right that has been ratified by the UNCRC and which we have a responsibility to promote, irrespective of children’s ages, vulnerabilities, and different abilities.
You have probably heard the saying, a picture is worth a thousand words, and can think of images that left a lasting impression on you. Photographs have the unique ability to communicate across cultural and linguistic barriers, are easily shared, and can spark dialogue. Picture taking can be fun and is accessible to most ages and skill sets. It is these characteristics of photography that highlight its potential to offer marginalized groups the opportunity to communicate their perspectives of daily life, capturing their struggles and coping strategies — a powerful tool to engage and share with local stakeholders and, initiate change.
On December 11, 2021, Save the Children initiated its ‘Photovoice’ project with 10 children from waste-picker families and other marginal households in Bengaluru slums. These children belonged to the children groups formed under the Saamuhika Shakti Collective Impact project.
But before we go into the details of this program, here is a little bit about Photovoice.
What is Photovoice?
Photovoice is a participatory action research methodology that was coined by American researcher Caroline Wang in the 1990s. She describes it as a methodology that enables people to identify, represent and enhance their community and life circumstances through photography.
Underlining its potential to enable personal and community change, she goes on to say that Photovoice is a process that “entrusts cameras to the hands of people to enable them to act as recorders, and potential analysts for social action and change, in their own communities. It uses the immediacy of the visual image and accompanying stories to furnish the evidence and to promote an effective, participatory means of sharing expertise to create healthful public policy.” (Wang and Buris 1997).
The value of photography as a means of engaging children has long been recognized. Not only are the images and the stories behind them important sources of information, the process of capturing, discussing, and sharing the images is as important as the final images themselves.
Research suggests that Photovoice can also contribute to the self-development of the participants through fostering recognition of the need for change, improved self-awareness of local circumstances, personal worthiness and confidence, as well as awareness of social resources and problem-solving abilities.
In short, the process has the potential to be empowering.
Save the Children’s work under Saamuhika Shakti intends to provide a conducive learning environment for 9300+ of the most marginalized children (3-18 years) from waste-picker and other marginal households in Bengaluru city.
For the Photovoice project, Save the Children organized a two-day photography workshop for the 10 children, facilitated by resource persons from the Save the Children communication team. This was followed by a two-day technical training conducted by documentary photographer Vinod Sebastian. The children were provided with individual cameras that they took home and carried around with them. The idea was to help children freeze the world around them, as seen through their perspective. While recording the reality of their everyday lives, the activity would also help them understand issues related to child rights and various civic infrastructure, social and economic issues faced by children from the waste-pickers community.
The 10 children went around their communities and documented their day-to-day lives by clicking hundreds of pictures.
The 100 best photographs were shortlisted by the children themselves and they were selected for display to the external world.
On May 11, 2022, Priyanka Mary Francis (IAS), Director, Department of Women and Child Development, Karnataka officially inaugurated the ‘Photovoice’ project with a coffee table book of the photos by the child photographers as well as their profiles. During the launch, flipping through the images, Priyanka Mary Francis said that the photos can be a powerful way to highlight issues faced by the children and to "demand solutions from the stakeholders such as the government and others". She promised to extend support with administrative decision-making to find ground up solutions from the community.
Following the launch event, the first photo exhibition took place at a Stakeholder Interface Meet held on July 2022 in Bengaluru. This event saw Slum Board Commissioner, Venkatesh KS, attend and interact directly with the child photographers. Subsequently, Venkatesh KS promised to support the creation of "community-level programmes for the children in collaboration with Save the Children and Saamuhika Shakti".
The largest platform the children and their photos received was in September 2022.
As a commitment to ensuring all children have access to their basic rights, Bengaluru’s Namma Metro supported Save the Children through a 10-day campaign, ‘Making Child Rights Reach Every Child’. The ‘Artivism’ campaign was celebrated at the metro station's Rangoli Metro Art Center. An exhibition of photos was inaugurated on September 3 by Kalpana Kataria, Executive Director, Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Ltd (BMRCL).
For a week, from September 5 to September 13, a series of advocacy efforts were undertaken to create awareness on various issues and challenges faced by the children and families of the waste-picking community.
On September 5, the child photographers got the opportunity to meet Anjum Parwez (IAS), BMRCL Managing Director who reiterated his and BMRCL’s support to amplify the voices of children and help children to participate in multiple platforms to raise voices on various Child Rights issues.
The photos were displayed for 10 days at the Rangoli Art Centre, drawing in large crowds who took the time to see the photos and understand the children’s stories. The Artivism campaign received extensive coverage in local Bengaluru media, which helped spread the message of child rights and of the challenges faced by children from the waste-picking community to a larger audience in the city.
The children have been at the core of this initiative from Day 1. They have enjoyed every step of the project as it gave them the space to unleash their creativity and explore their world of imagination.
Rithesh, a child from Jyothipura whose photos were part of the exhibition, shared that the photography workshop helped him learn more about his rights. “The Right to Participation means children should be included in activities. In many activities, they avoid slum children. They should not do that,” he said.
Save the Children is constantly looking for multiple external platforms to highlight the talent of these children. The next step is to display these photographs at various art galleries and in public spaces.