I am currently in the process of making a documentary work titled “CHILD”. Starting in October 2015, I met and interviewed “Khates”, which is what the locals calls “Street Children”, in Kathmandu, Nepal. My intention is to change the social awareness about these abandoned children.
The children are an obvious part of society, which means they are worthy of the protection of adults.
This made me think it was necessary for them to reveal their existence and stories by themselves, as far as they are willing to show, because they are not the criminals.
The amount of children living on the streets is believed to range from tens of millions up to 100million, according to estimations by UNICEF, 2005. These children exist everywhere.
A general agreement about “street children” is that they are boys or girls, under 18 years calling the streets their homes, they live and make a living there. These children are without proper guardians to oversee them.
They are visible to society when considered criminals or worse (e.g. murderers/prostitutes). However, while abusing drugs or sleeping on the streets, they are invisible to society. On the streets they are nameless.
Realizing this, I took it to myself to visit a city where street children are common, yet invisible. This led me to Kathmandu, Nepal, the first time in October 2015, and the second time February 2016.
Meeting the children I asked for their name and age, which later resulted in long exchanges of stories, dreams, regrets, friendships, experiences and much more.
They are regarded as orphans, even if they have parents. The usual reason to run away from home was parents abusing drugs/alcohol and violence, or at times poverty.
The streets were their choice, their freedom.
Their ages ranged from 5 to 14 years. Few children knew of their birthdays. Many children smoked and even more sniffed glue. The glue helped them escape reality, hunger, shame, and also worked as medication. They made money by begging or collecting garbage.
None of the children wanted an adult life on the streets, they all had dreams/ambitions. This meaning they want an existence in society, an identity to be recognized by.
Apart from meeting the children, I also met with NGOs and presented my project.
My idea was to change the social awareness about the children and make them members of society. These actions were only possible if the children agree to reveal their existence and stories. The NGOs were against my idea and project, because of human rights.
As I had studied about NGOs methods of promoting through images, I could recognize their good intention. Their goal was to help the children and for that they needed donations. However the methods had a broken balance between NGOs (helpers) and children (beneficiaries).
The first point is that the perspective of the camera was focusing on the NGOs and their activities. Their promotional images look more like self-portraits. The images are showing more of “This is what we are doing” than actual objective facts.
The second point is that the eyes of children are hidden and faces blurred. The children can be seen as negatively/socially anonymous people, not as regular individuals. Subconsciously it created a hierarchy between the NGOs (helpers/general people) and the children.
The way to respect human rights can be flexible, through discussions. NGOs tend to apply one rule to all occasions.
My work is kind of documentary work, from facts. Reason for “kind of” is because my work is not perfectly journalistic, and also not perfectly sharing perspectives with NGOs. My main concern is balance.
In journalistic pictures, the photographers do their best in taking pictures of reality and facts. However, the pictures may stimulate or violate viewers too much. They may get criticized, but they have to show reality and facts, for justice. While doing their work, they have to be free.
On the other side, NGOs pictures have the intention to protect and care for their victims. Their pictures extract sympathy. They edit and present in order to get donations for charity. The result being that reality and facts can disappear, leaving viewers believing beneficiaries only have poverty and sadness.
I try to maintain the goal of NGOs, in the place of a journalist. I am neither a journalist nor a NGO photographer, so if I had to categorize my approach it would be as “journalistic charity”.I want to grant the children their desired social existence through my works. I am convinced that the small interest I paid them could make them better and help reduce their numbers. My project is a mere start to express concern about them.