an Ad a Day

A look at the marketing that surrounds us.

Amnesty International: Idyllic Visions of Childhood

Posted by Rosepixie on May 4, 2010

This is an ad from Amnesty International that I came across online recently.

The text reads:

Caution – Children at War

Abolish the use of children soldiers worldwide.  Children have the right to be children.

Amnesty International

While I can’t argue with the cause, children being used as soldiers is a pretty horrifying practice, this ad struck me as somehow not very realistic.  Children have very different lives in different parts of the world.  Kids in well-to-do, advanced nations are, for the most part, afforded “the right to be children”.  They live more protected lives where they are prohibited from working, required to go to schools which are specially designed to basically keep them in “age-appropriate” boxes for most of the day, and surrounded by media that is carefully vetted and labelled on it’s appropriateness for them (and usually restricted from accessing media that is considered too far above their “appropriate” age bracket).  They are encourage to spend their days playing and learning and dreaming.

This is not the life that kids in less well-to-do, advanced countries live unless they are from very well-to-do families.  There are places where kids marry at young ages (girls marry at age ten or even younger in some parts of the world).  There are places where they work very hard to earn money or keep the family household running from very young ages – they might be working jobs or they might be raising their siblings and doing all the work at home while their parents are gone all day.  There are places where kids take horrible jobs that we in the US would likely consider not fit for anyone to be doing, much less a child, and they are probably doing it for pennies.  There are places where little girls are prostitutes because they and their families can’t find any other options.  Children do not “have the right to be children” in a lot of world.

And I’d agree that it’s horrible that children are soldiers and fighting in horrible, bloody wars, but some of them do so because not to would be worse.  Some of them are fighting to improve their lives and the lives of their families.  Some are fighting because they see it as a preferable option to whatever they would otherwise be having to do.  Some are forced into it, yes, but some are just as dedicated to their causes as the adults who lead them.  Some truly believe that they are fighting for a better life or that agreeing to be a soldier will save them from otherwise certain pain and anguish.  And some of them are right – it is a better option.  And that is horrible.

But I’m not sure that a cute, Western, well-to-do “children have the right to be children” approach is going to help.  Because while the cause is important and it is vital to stop children from fighting and dying needlessly in wars, stopping them from being solders just to send them back to miserable lives as very small adults with no rights isn’t really fixing the problem.  For some it’s taking them out of a bad situation they didn’t want to be in and sending them back into another, for others it’s taking away the one thing they felt they had – the right to fight back.

I appreciate what Amnesty International is trying to do here, but I think they’re going at this from entirely the wrong angle and that it has the potential to hurt kids who are already in bad situations.  And that is something I can’t support.  I think that when you’re advocating a global issue like this, you need to step beyond your very narrow cultural viewpoint and think larger and I think that this ad completely fails to do that.


One Response to “Amnesty International: Idyllic Visions of Childhood”

  1. Eva said

    While the points you bring up are definitely valid in the big picture, I think you might want to look at where this ad is being deployed. The ad is obviously meant to evoke a gut reaction, rather than a literal image or educational message. I would contend that it’s an attempt to get people to donate and get involved, rather than an attempt to do complex education. If it’s only being presented in the western world, I would say that it may be very effective at what it’s trying to do: to raise general awareness and get aid to help children who have no desire to be soldiers and have no choice to _not_ fight.

    There are all sorts of problems facing children around the world, but that doesn’t mean Amnesty International shouldn’t try to get leverage against one issue that can involve kidnapping, brainwashing, torture, drug dependency, and all sorts of other terrible things that no one of any age should have to endure. If they can get more money out of western wallets by pointing out that there are children involved, maybe that’s the way to help the most people. You have to start somewhere.

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