“Pointing fingers of abandonment,” (The Times 05/07/2010, p.12) receives a Mad from Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) for photography that poorly represents children and infringes on their rights to privacy and dignity.

The article examined the possible reasons behind why a woman might abandon her child. It claimed that there are a number of factors that may contribute to a mother “dumping” her child.

A number of experts were quoted, challenging simplistic views on the matter:  They cited postpartum depression, a lack of support from family and socio-economic circumstances as some of the reasons why a mother may abandon a child.

“Post-natal services are extremely poor for the women in this country. In 24 hours they have to leave the hospital and nobody checks if that mother has post-natal depression or if she is emotionally mature,” Joan van Niekirk of Childline was quoted as saying.

However despite the fact that the article dealt with a difficult and emotive subject in a balanced and informative way, MMA is very concerned about the photograph that was published alongside it. The image, which was supplied by news agency Reuters, clearly identifies three children, who are portrayed as, and it can be assumed are, abandoned children. Of additional concern is the high angle at which the picture was taken.

Child abandonment is considered child neglect, which constitutes abuse. This means that the children in the picture published by The Times were victims of child abuse and therefore should not have been identified in the media.

Furthermore, taking images of children from a high angle portrays them as vulnerable and helpless. The photographer is literally “looking down” on the children when taking the picture, and whether it’s intentional or not, they appear diminutive and powerless.

MMA’s ethical guidelines state that images of children should be used with extreme care and must be contextualised within a story. Photojournalists and photographers should also try to avoid images that stereotype children.

These were issues that were clearly identified by children who participated in our media monitoring project:

“This is a bad picture because its invading privacy and taking away dignity, making the children look very small and weak.”
Sam Fortuin, Grade 7, Saxonwold

“It is very bad because of the way they show the children. They make the children look very small. They are also showing the children’s faces.”
Ciaran Heywood, Grade 7, Saxonwold.

MMA is aware of The Times’ efforts to raise awareness around the struggles experienced by mothers who abandon their children. However, this strong piece of journalism was undermined by the photograph chosen to accompany it.

We urge news agencies and all media to consider the best interest of children at all times and to be aware of the profound power of images, and the messages they deliver.