The UNICEF photo of the year is indeed heartbreaking. The 11-year-old girl in the photo is about to be raped by the man sitting next to her — a 40-year-old who purchased her for marriage. It’s a painful and provocative image, and UNICEF certainly chose well.
But, as usual, I’m disappointed by some of the responses to the choice — specifically, this one, titled “How a UNICEF Photo Makes the West’s Heart Ache.”
As if everyone in the “East” promotes child marriage, male dominance and rape.
As if no one in the “West” does.
The author is right when he says that cultural relativism takes us down a dangerous path; he is right that we must draw lines. But he’s wrong when he presumes that people in the “East” are backwards child-marrying barbarians, while people in the West are enlightened and feminist. He is wrong when he argues that it is Westerners, and only Westerners, who can go in and save these backwards desert-dwellers. He is wrong when he presumes that none of the “Eastern” people are doing the work themselves.
Barbarity breeds barbarity and inhumanity breeds inhumanity. The Middle East, North Africa, and the other regions that the author is ostensibly referring to are full of countries scarred by repeated wars and choked by colonial pasts. Does that justify child marriage and rape? Of course not. Should we criticize those practices? Absolutely. But not at the expense of silencing and ignoring the on-the-ground work being done by human rights activists in their own countries. Not by drawing an increasingly thick line between “us” and “them.” Not while pretending we are so morally superior.
Here are some of the other picture nominations:
Second-place honors went to GMB Akash, of Bangladesh, whose winning photo shows a 12-year-old boy toiling in a Bangladeshi brickyard. UNICEF studies conclude that 4.7 million children between five and 14 years of age are involved in child labor in that country.
Child laborers all over the world make products that you and I regularly consume.
“A Mother’s Journey”: The American photographer Renee C. Byer took this picture as part of a series about a single mother with five children and a son suffering from terminal cancer. He died in 2006.
The United States has one of the worst health care systems in the developed world. People get sick and people die every day because they lack access to adequate health care.
Finbarr O’Reilly recieved an honorable mention for his photo “A House of Hope,” an image of Lopez Vidal, right, and Aron Masahuka, both afflicted with polio, languishing in an ill-equipped hospital in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo.
Congo remains deeply afflicted by its colonial past. When the exploitative Belgian colonial power pulled out, it left 30 Congolese university graduates to fill 4,000 vacated senior administrative positions. The region remains crippled by civil war and genocide.
Hatem Moussa won an honorable mention for “Life in Gaza”: Palestinian children were rushed from a car into a hospital after their homes were hit by Israeli shelling in the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahiya in April, 2006. An eight-year-old child was killed in the attack and 13 other children were injured.
This one should be pretty self-explanatory. In the Israel-Palestine conflict, the United States has definitively chosen a team, and we turn a blind eye to the casualties, humiliations and abuses suffered by the “other side.”
Joseline Ingabire, 37, an HIV-positive Rwandan woman, is pictured with her daughter Leah Batamuliza, 11. This photo by Jonathon Torgovnik accompanied a story in Newsweek magazine about women who were raped during the Rwandan civil war and their children today.
The Clinton strategy in Rwanda essentially came down to “do nothing.” And our refusal to give the UN any real power prevented them from properly intervening.
Musa Sadulayew made this photo as a part of a series called “Chechnya’s Forgotten Children.”
Chechnya has been engaged in a brutal civil war for years. Pro-Moscow forces in Chechnya regularly torture detainees, and hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced.
There are several other finalists. Check them out.
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