An album featuring young girls sporting fake pregnancies in an anti-child abuse campaign has come in for heavy criticism.
The photo album is part of a project against sexual abuse of children initiated by two MCs (masters of ceremonies), Cong To and Minh Tra, in collaboration with photographer Da Mieu and Hanoi-based Shine Academy, which offers courses on soft skills.
Released last week, the photo album, titled “Nhung dua tre mang bau” (Children with pregnancy) puts the girls in situations where they have been abused by men.
In the photos, the girls, between eight and 12 years of age, wear fake pregnant bellies and their faces reflect anxiety, fear and panic so as to portray the suffering of real victims.
The photos carry captions like: “What is inside [my belly] mom?”; “Mom, the devils are real”; “He did not let me tell anyone and as you [the parents] are always busy, I did not dare to tell you anything”; and “He said it’s gonna be okay but it really hurts.”
Apart from these quotes, the album carries data on the child abuse situation in Vietnam. It says that a child is harassed or abused every eight hours, and 93 percent of perpetrators are in the family circle.
It calls on everyone to be aware and raise their voices to protect children.
While the photographs touched the hearts of some people, many disagreed with the approach adopted.
The faces of the children in the photos are not obscured and many people are worried that they can be used for nefarious purposes, defeating the original intention, and eventually, affecting the young models themselves.
“Why are the faces of the men hidden and that of the children shown? The team [behind the project] does not seem to care about people and only wants shock in order to get attention,” reader Hoang Huong commented.
“The reverse impact of this project should be carefully considered. The idea is good but the way it is expressed is not humane. Maybe the team should have sought advice from psychologists specializing in youth and social issues before implementing the project,” commented another reader, Nguyen Bao Tri.
MC Cong To, the project’s creative director, said the team did think about the option of hiding the faces of the girls at first but then they worried that it would make viewers misunderstand that the models are real victims who’d already been abused.
“We did make it public that all girls in those photos are just models for the project. They have been offered two courses in child sexual abuse prevention and understand clearly the value of what they did.
“We have the agreement from their families and all of us were on the same page on how the project should be implemented,” he said.
The photographer, Da Mieu, said the project aimed to attack sexual abusers of children, and choosing models of an older age would have been misleading.
The team also said this photo album is just a start for their project to protect children from sexual abuse. For the next step, they are working on a similar album for boys and plan to release it soon.
Dang Hoa Nam, head of the Department of Child Affairs under the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs, said he has seen all the photos and also followed public reaction.
He said that while he agreed with the motivation behind a project to depict current events through art, there was some validity to the criticism.
Although the team had got permission from the parents before shooting photos of the girls, they should not have let the faces of the kids appear so clearly, because that could affect their lives later, Nam said.
“On the other hand, the message that the photo album wants to deliver is not yet clear. Pregnancy is not everything that a child will have to carry after being sexually harassed. What it does to their emotional and mental health is something they will never forget,” he said.
Child sexual abuse is not rare in Vietnam, as reported by the public, yet official data on sexual harassment is not regularly published in the country.
A report released last month by the Ministry of Public Security said out of 1,600 reported cases of child abuse last year, 80 percent involved sexual assault and in most cases, the perpetrators were someone close to the children or having authority over them, like neighbors, relatives or teachers.