Everybody’s Child: An Exploration of Images of Children that Shocked the World
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Despite the passivity and vulnerability of childhood as a social construction, the image of the child is both powerful and transformative. Such is the power of images of the child they can and have shaped the history of nation states, shifted policy and
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Despite the passivity and vulnerability of childhood as a social construction, the image of the child is both powerful and transformative. Such is the power of images of the child they can and have shaped the history of nation states, shifted policy and become emblematic of a cry for change. In journalism, filmmaking, and news media the child can become the symbol of a nation, a conflict, a tragedy and the failure of policy, or indeed the adult world, to care and protect childhood itself. Using evocative images from across the 20th and 21st century, this paper interrogates how idealised notions of childhood become focal and challenged by images which reveal the death, deprivation and destruction of children. The image of 3-year-old Alan Kurdi’s body on a Turkish Beach in 2015 resonated around the world. It became the biggest trending photo on Twitter within 24 h and graced the front of hundreds of global newspapers the following day. It also demanded a political response, as presidents and prime ministers scrambled to hold press conferences and generate policy to respond to the Syrian and wider so-called Mediterranean crisis. This is just a recent example in a long line of iconic images of ‘the child’ that have shaped policy and shifted hearts and minds. The power and influence of these photographs is traced here to highlight where the discursive vulnerability of a single child becomes emblematic of the failures of the powerful: adults, governments, nation states, and global governance. Using the examples of famine stricken South Sudan (1993) and the ‘migrant crisis’ of the Mediterranean Sea (2015), how these hitherto anonymous children briefly become everybody’s child is explored here.