In every day life, some topics are avoided as they may be very disturbing to some people, and some topics I avoid writing about as they are so very disturbing to me. The despair of children is one topic that I have struggled with for a long time, but I cannot get it out of my mind. So when my friend Louise made me realize that children were often in my travel pics, I knew that the time had come for me to write this blog. I finally surrendered to writing it, if only to contribute ever so slightly in exposing these issues to the world at large. From now on, the faint smile of these children will not reside only in my mind, but will be immortalized in my blog to render them justice. Louise I owe you a thank you for pushing me to see this through.
It is no hidden secret that the “One-Child” policy of China has seen its share of horrors. Parents, in rural areas, are often faced with the harsh reality of favouring boys over girls or not declaring the second child to the government, pre-condemning the unborn child to a life of anonymity, a destiny of being unknown. Boys are preferred because they are more robust, will be more handy in the fields and will not come with the hefty price tag of the wedding. If you can only have one child, it might as well be a boy, particularly if you want a chance at surviving the hardship of life. The tragedy is that frequently, unborn girls are terminated before birth. If the parents cannot afford ultrasound technology, often the cruel fate of the child is sealed at birth.
The same ritual is also found in rural India where tradition binds parents of girls to find a husband of a lesser fortune or of a lower cast for their daughter, hoping that the young woman will be treated better if she is the one with the most money. In traditional India, the father of the bride is the one who is expected to pay the 5 day long wedding where thousands of people come together to celebrate the passage of his little princess to the other clan, carrying with her the wealth of her family, often the savings of a lifetime. How many girls can a father afford to have in his life? I guess having a girl is not always a blessing there either.
But yet in Nepal, very near the border of India, a village, or shall I say a tribe, called the Badi people, deploy a lavish celebration of joy at the announcement that a baby girl will be born. For kilometers around, villagers will flock in the home of the blessed parents to share their overwhelming happiness. Soon a girl will be born and contribute to the wealth of the community!
The Badi people are from an old tribe of nomads mainly located in west Nepal and are considered as “Untouchables” in the Hindu system. The “Untouchables” is the lowest layer of people in Hinduism, not even considered a cast, and considered the lowest of the low in general. In the Badi world, boys are not celebrated, they are simply a disappointing miss haps. In the Badi world, women work hard to bring financial independence to their family…In the Badi world, women are destined to work as prostitutes from a very young age, until they are too old to attract anyone!
So Badi people celebrate and favour girls in their community. From the moment they are old enough to walk and talk, the mother will start teaching the young girl about her unavoidable destiny, and on the day her parents will consider she is ready, often at the age of 11, the young woman will be celebrated. On that special day, the village will lavish her with new clothes, jewelry and make-up before handing her over to the first man that will abuse her; sometimes her father, brother and/or other members of the clan.
In the irony of things, these young girls, considered by society as untouchables, will be touched by more men in their lives than it is humanly possible to imagine, sometimes twenty to thirty men a day, all booked and managed by her own family. A cruel destiny crafted by tradition for generations, a tradition of child sex slavery shaped over time by a survival instinct. The luckiest ones will stay with their family, in a bedroom, for their entire working life. And if she bears a child, they will favour a girl. The unlucky ones will be sold by their parents, or kidnapped by smugglers, who will bring the young child to India where she will be locked-in a brothel and never get out of that tiny insalubrious room cell unless she is rescued or dies.
My fascination of photographing children (other than the fact that they look adorable) started on my first trip to Cambodia where I witnessed a glimpse of old eyes in a very young child. A look that should never be seen in such a young innocent creature. Her eyes troubled me so much that I started to look at all the children’s eyes.
I’ve not had children of my own, but this is not the reason for my photographic curiosity for children. Sorry to bust anyone’s psychological assessment, but I take pictures of children because I want to capture their eyes, the mirror of their souls, the door to their dreams, too often broken dreams, the eyes of the ones that have seen too much for their age. I never want to forget these eyes as they will, one day, be my inspiration to help others.
Crossing the path of children who have been robbed of their future, regardless of how bright it could have been, seeing the ones whose destiny was replaced by darkness and disillusion brings a strong sentiment of sorrow that angers my soul to a scary level. Not only for the Badi girls, but for all the hundreds of thousands of children in developing countries who are in this position. A child should never have a customer!
These predators have no specific nationalities; Indians, Koreans, Japanese, Americans, Europeans and Nepalese line-up to be in the first row of those who will alter the destiny of these young children. They are ready to pay high premiums to get very young virgins in order to avoid catching the HIV virus or other STDs. For parents of these poor children, money talks!
Last Christmas, I looked at my 8 year old niece unwrapping her gift from us; a treasure box of objects, money, maps and gifts representing all the countries of Asia. Her face was lit with joy, curiosity, discovery and excitement. Her eyes were sparkling with trust and dreams, all the wonderful emotions that a child should feel. At that moment we took pictures of her, but this time it was to capture the beauty of the moment. I did not have the heart to tell her the truth about the children of a lesser destiny that I sometimes come across in my travels.
P.S: The day after I wrote this blog, a 3 year old girl was raped and beaten to near death by a 20 year old man in India. I cannot even comprehend how people get to this level of depravity.
If you wish to help: http://www.touchingasia.org/main/
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