Children of a Lesser Destiny

23 02 2013

In everyday life, some topics are avoided by people as they find it too disturbing to read. In my life, there are some topics that 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 since I cannot get it out of my mind, the time has 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 live only in my mind but will be immortalized in my blog to give them justice.

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-condemns the unborn child to a life of anonymity, a destiny of being unknown. Boys are preferred because they are more robust, will be handier in the fields and will not come with the hefty price tag of a future 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 the rural life. The tragedy is that often, unborn girls are terminated before birth. If the parents cannot afford ultrasound technology, the cruel fate of the child is sealed at birth.

DSC03762The 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 caste for their daughter, in hope that the young woman will be treated well 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 may 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? I guess having a girl is not always a blessing in India 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 kilometres 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 caste system. The “Untouchables” is the lowest layer of people in Hinduism, not even considered part of the caste hierarchy. In the Badi world, boys are not celebrated, they are simply disappointing mishaps. 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 and 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. On the day her parents consider her 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, jewellery 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 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 all 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 the gift I had carefully planned and prepared for months; a treasure box of objects, money, maps and items representing all the countries of Asia. Her face lit-up 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.

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4 responses

24 02 2013

Oh Helene… I know all this existed and I have been horrified about it for years – I feel helpless in doing anything about it. Reading your words and your oh so very empathic, intelligent and carefully worded insight… brought tears to my eyes. I’m glad to have done the When Kids Rule project and that you were such an important part of it – but I only wish we could have taken it further…

24 02 2013

Yes Bonny, your project of when kids rule the world was brilliant and should have made it much further and one can only imagined how many kids would have benefited. Thank you.

24 02 2013

Thanks for sharing your views. The children of Asia relativeley live along the widest socioeconomic spectrum, from downright spolied rotten to complete deprivation with no hope. Our school humanitarian group ‘Un Lycee Pour l’Espoir’ make herculian fund raising efforts each year, all the while adhering to pedagogic goals for each of our youngsters involved. We raise funds and redirect them to many needy (smaller) Asian organizations that assist the children you just described. Recently a mom photographer through the school raised funds to direct to ‘Educating Girls’ initiatives in China, Cambodia and the Philippines. It will seem like droplets in the big sea of need. We can only take on small step for woman-kind. Best, Pauline

24 02 2013

Thank you Pauline for sharing this additional info and I will post the link below mine in the post. Keep up the good work!

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