Do we see their world?

Do we see their world? It’s an intriguing question and it echoes the thoughts of bright young people who took part in this photo project to hold up a lens to their lives so that we too, can see what they see and how they see it.

So how do they see their world? From a distance, lives of young people in rural Bangladesh can seem normal, peaceful … until we zoom in – through their lenses – and take a look up close.

Beyond the beauty of nature, the simple pleasures of village life, the lime-green paddy fields, and beyond the giggling girls, there is another image that we turn away from. In that image there is a family where two wives live side-by-side but never speak; a man beating his wife with unspeakable violence; a girl married at too tender an age, forced out of school where she had taken so much pride and joy in learning and now in despair. Girls sexually assaulted; small boys smothered in the dust of a filthy workshop, when they should be at school, because some adult said it was time they earned a living.

These are of the images of unseen tragedy. Every now and then we catch a glimpse of this world in an odd article in a newspaper, but we will not know, we will not understand and we will not be able to bring about change if we do not open our eyes first and see their world.

UNICEF undertook this project because we believe that it will help open our eyes to the reality lived by those young people. Our project for the Empowerment of Adolescents, funded by the European Union and implemented under the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs, has provided this platform.

As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, our first commitment is to give an avenue to young people so they can show us and tell us about their lives, about their hopes and fears. For UNICEF, an imperative provision of the Convention on the Rights of the Child is the article 12 on child participation: ‘States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child.’

In partnership with Pathshala, the South Asian Institute of Photography, UNICEF offered the opportunity to thirty young people living far from the big cities to express themselves in an original manner. Not through words but through images. Not through long speeches but through a language that needs no translation – the power of an image.

This exhibition is the result of this commitment. It is a simple invitation to open our eyes and indeed begin to see their world.

Carel de Rooy
UNICEF Representative


Investing in the future

It is a great pleasure to introduce this book of photographs taken by adolescent girls and boys. I should like to congratulate the authors of these splendid pictures, and all the children and adolescents who participated so enthusiastically in this initiative. A picture is worth a thousand words in any language, and a digital photograph is a wonderful medium for expressing a child's hopes, fears, dreams or feelings!

This book is published to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of Children, as well as Universal Children's Day. We all share a common interest and concern for children, for the very simple reason that children are our future. We owe them the best possible start in life. The book is a clear example of what can be achieved by giving children and adolescents the chance to play an active role in matters that affect them directly.

One of the European Union's top priorities in its external human rights policy is to promote and protect all of the rights of the child. We see this as the best way of acting in the best interests of children. These rights include protection from discrimination, as well as participation in decision-making processes, and must be based on the universality, indivisibility, interdependence and interrelatedness of all human rights, including the right to development. In this the principles of democracy, equality, non-discrimination, peace and social justice are absolutely vital.

Children and adolescents comprise one third of the world’s population and constitute more than half of the population in most developing countries. Their healthy development is vitally important to their societies, and much greater attention needs to be given to ensure that their rights are effectively realised. As a group they form a unique constituency with a particular set of needs, yet their rights are regularly abused or neglected and their voices generally go unheard.

Investing in children and young people today means investing in the future by trying to give them a good education, positive ideals, skills and a sense of social responsibility. Such young people have the best chance of growing into adults with a commitment to sound social values, ready and able to contribute to the development of their communities.

Dr. Stefan Frowein
Ambassador and Head of Delegation
Delegation of the European Commission to Bangladesh


Coping with life

Kamera tulen”. Elsewhere, one would think a hundred times before pointing a camera. Permission, legality, issues of representation, all came into play. In any Bangladeshi village, getting people out of your lens is the problem. A cluster of heads surround the LCD. Peals of laughter. Old toothless smiles, a little baby held up so she can see. The disappointment of being left out. There might be serious issues to be dealt with, but right now being photographed was all that mattered.

With every intervention, one has concerns. Entering people’s lives, creating expectations, making friends, all have to deal with the disengagement that follows. It was people you were dealing with. How do you walk out of a life you have changed, perhaps forever? What do you leave behind, how much do you take away? These were difficult questions and we didn’t really have answers. But we’d tried it before, in cities and in villages. The remarkable transformations it had made to some children’s lives made the risk worth taking.

There were aesthetic concerns too. In talking of composition, rules of thirds, moments, balance, were we suppressing their spontaneity? Did we impinge upon their way of seeing? Were we erasing their natural ability to tell stories? We needn’t have worried. Sure, they tried things out. Pictures were created with remarkable composition. Balanced frames with well-placed elements formed stylised images that a trained photographer would have been proud of, but we had underestimated their instincts. Our fears of over intrusion were unfounded. The most striking images resulted not from our training, but because they had a voice. They could now tell their own stories and no one was going to get in their way, not even their teachers. The proud, chest-out, stiff at attention pose, that thwarted every photographer looking for something ‘natural’ was very much part of that expression. The loud coloured décor that would embarrass the urban genteel, was shown off with panache. Quirky images of everyday scenes, seen the way only children see, were the nuggets that glittered through our light box.

There were quiet reflective moments too. Their realities, the every day challenges, the matter of factness with which they dealt with hurdles, had an immediacy that would humble a trained professional. Layered between romantic images in fields of Kash, looming clouds over flowing rivers, coiled branches silhouetted against stormy skies, were photographs that talked of strife. People less able who insisted on being able. Children longing to be children. A much too young bride. Another young mother to be, gingerly treading through a treacherous path. Absent are the images they were not allowed to show. That threatened a patriarchal society’s image. Pictures they had been forced to delete. Pictures they had staged, as their reality was being suppressed. To delete, to stage, to deal with censorship. These are things they hadn’t been taught. They were learning on the fly. Dealing with situations as best as they could. They were coping with life. Perhaps the ultimate lesson.

Dr. Shahidul Alam
Pathshala – South Asian Institute of Photography Bangladesh