There has been some debate recently over an NGO in Cambodia who used photos of children in their end of financial year campaign. The goal was to raise funds to provide marginalised children with vocational training opportunities at $500 a child. The organisation used individual photos of dishevelled looking children and captioned the photos ‘Teach a sex worker to sew’, ‘teach a trafficked kid a trade’ and ‘teach a homeless teen to cook’.
I was outraged when I saw this, as it was clearly a form of poverty porn. Despite all the backlash from individuals, NGO’s who signed a letter to the organisation’s board asking for the campaign to be taken down and several news articles, the organisation stood by their campaign. They said that the images were taken in line with The Australian Council for International Development (ACFID)’s child protection policy, and that donors had reacted positively to it. They stated that they had used paid models (children from their community) and stories to represent the types of situations they dealt with at their organisation. The question is though, do these children really understand what their images were being used for? Did the girl know that she was being labelled as a sex worker? With the increasing popularity of smart phones and Facebook in Cambodia, isn’t it possible that someone in her village could have seen this photo and thought that she actually was a sex worker? This would have a detrimental impact on her life.
Poverty porn was popular in the 80’s, but I thought people had moved past it. Why can’t we fundraise for beneficiaries whilst protecting their dignity? I feel very strongly about not making our community members around Human and Hope Association targets of poverty porn. Despite constantly needing funding, when a film crew from Singapore asked to film some of our beneficiaries in their dire situations, we said no. This is because every person has the right to privacy, and although some people might agree to having videos and photos taken of them, they most likely don’t fully understand what the media will be used for, how they will be portrayed and the repercussions of this.
This isn’t the first organisation to resort to poverty porn to raise funds, and I regrettably don’t believe it will be the last. As long as donors keep responding to these campaigns with donations, the organisations will continue pumping them out.
What you can do instead is respond to positive campaigns that allow people to keep their dignity whilst receiving help. Say no to poverty porn.