Protecting Children in Media

There I was, mouth hanging awkwardly open, on the Facebook page of a person I’d only met a time or two. I know most pictures are considered public domain these days, and it wasn’t a big deal. But still, I couldn’t help feeling a bit like a fresh ham plopped without consent in the butcher shop window, tagged and displayed for the eyes of any passerby to inspect.

Photo by Esther Havens
Photo by Esther Havens

But then it struck me, “How often have I done similar things?” Long before Facebook, I’d showed and shared countless pictures with others — photos not only of friends, but also of celebrities (yes, I did nab a picture with Bob Dole in ’92), cute kids (after the high school missions trip to Mexico) and even strangers (that odd family at Starbucks who sat at the same table but stared at their phone screens the whole time).

It’s easy to be thoughtless when it comes to sharing pictures, videos and stories of others. That can be especially true when it comes to images of vulnerable children. They’re so sweet…compelling…cute…pitiful…fun…moving. And after all, what harm will it do to post a short video clip of that little guy to my Facebook page? To send photos from the missions trip around to the people who helped support it?

Of course, there certainly are appropriate ways to use images and stories. But we should never forget that sharing an image or story of a child shares a part of that child. Even when done with the purest motives, this sharing exposes a child. It lays them out there before the eyes and thoughts of others, often total strangers.

So choosing wisely about when and how we share images of children is a vital aspect of child protection. This is especially important for children who don’t have parents to put their foot down regarding what’s appropriate and what’s not.

Photo by Esther Havens
Photo by Esther Havens

Children are not objects, like a waterfall or lamppost. We need feel no qualms about “capturing” objects in a film or photograph to take home and share with others. But children are beings, human souls, with the light of eternity flickering in their eyes. As Christians, we believe that each child, even the most destitute or neglected, is made in the image of God, utterly unique, precious beyond words.

So wise, careful use of media that involves vulnerable children is most of all about honoring children – affirming each child’s uniqueness and fathomless value.

To help us all do that, the Christian Alliance for Orphans has created a two-page guide for “Protecting Children in Media.” It encourages nine simple practices that help us avoid harmful and dishonoring use of media.

The guide also offers seven “Questions for Consideration.” It reminds, “Some of the most important considerations regarding photography, film and stories aren’t necessarily ‘right or wrong’ decisions. They often require discernment between ‘acceptable,’ ‘better,’ and ‘best.’” The questions are designed to spur reflection and discussion on what really is best when it comes to children and media.

To help launch the guide and begin these conversations, CAFO is hosting a webinar on Wednesday, March 16 featuring CAFO’s Director of Social and Visual Media, Ashley Otani, and award-winning humanitarian photographer, Esther Havens.   (See some of her amazing photos at Ashley will introduce the guide and then interview Esther, exploring together compelling stories and hard questions that Esther’s work around the world involves on a daily basis. Free registration for the webinar available HERE.

We’d love for you to join this conversation. And most of all, please join the whole CAFO community in seeking together to protect and honor children in media!

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