» Archive for category: ‘representation

Guest post by Mahardhika S. Sadjad, a current student in the ISS Child & Youth Studies in Development Context course984074_10152761489194989_7116096001312945834_n

On 17 February 2015, three young British girls were caught on CCTV boarding a plane to Istanbul on their way to Syria to become ISIS brides. Shamima Begum, 15, Kadiza Sultana, 16, and Amira Abase, 15, are all UK citizens – two of which were born and raised in the UK.

The girls’ seemingly voluntary departure to join ISIS triggered public outcry. While recruitment of young European men into ISIS was increasingly being covered by the media, until then, little attention was given towards the role of young women in ISIS. How could three young, bright girls with a Western education and upbringing even contemplate joining an Islamist group known to oppress and harm women? The media could not figure out whether to paint them as terrorists or victims, oppressed girls or women with agency; brainwashed young Muslims or bright, educated criminal masterminds.

Photo_The Guardian

Photo from The Guardian newspaper

Quoted in the Telegraph.co.uk, Scotland Yard stated that the search for these teenagers was not about ‘criminalising people, it is about preventing tragedies by offering support to the young and vulnerable’ (Evans, 2015). Nosheen Iqbal (2015) expressed a similar opinion in response to headlines that condemned the young women: ‘Being sharp and clever in class doesn’t make them any less impressionable as children… At their age, extremism and nihilism can easily take root, because real life hasn’t really happened to them yet’. These views echo the paradoxical views that society associate with youth, as ‘… terrors of the present, the errors of the past, the prospect of a future… they are figures of a popular imagination far removed from more nuanced social realities’ (Comaroff and Comaroff 2005, 20). Glaringly absent from the discussion were the voices of young people and their views of the subject.

The debate between demonizing and victimizing the young women does little to shed light on the role of ethnicity, gender, age, and social structure that influenced their decisions. Bayat and Herrera (2010, 5) point out that according to Gallup World Poll there isn’t a difference of unemployment rates and education levels between the politically radical and moderate. What sets Muslim youth apart – especially after the tragedies of 11 September 2001 – is a generational consciousness as young Muslims who thrive to construct their identities and individuality within a society that constantly scrutinizes who they are based on what they believe in or who they associate with (Ibid. 10-11). In a social reality where Islam is portrayed as the anti-thesis of ‘the West’, Muslim youth find sources of resistance through everyday religious practices to challenge Western norms where youth are expected to celebrate liberty (Amir-Moazami 2010, 192-193). These expressions differ widely among Muslim youth and must also be understood as a gendered process. One might argue that the most extreme form of these expressions are displayed by the likes of Begum, Sultana, and Abase, who left UK to become ISIS brides.

This blog post is not meant to support ISIS in any way or justify the actions of young people who join ISIS. Instead, I am arguing for the need to go beyond the dichotomized discourse that pushes young people to make ‘either/or’ decisions in constructing their identities, causing them to become more vulnerable to extremism. This binary only works in support of ISIS’ propaganda pitting Islamic fundamentalism against ‘Western imperialism’; attracting Muslim youth in western societies who often feel the injustices faced by minority groups but are too marginalized from meaningful forms of expression. Trying to understand why young people would opt to live in a world of violence and oppression requires us to better understand their views about the realities that they leave behind when they board a plane, departing from Europe.

Reference List

Amir-Moazami, S. (2010), ‘Avoiding “Youthfulness?”: Young Muslims Negotiating Gender and Citizenship in France and Germany, in A. Bayat and L.A. Herrera (eds.) Being Young and Muslim: New Cultural Politics in the Global South and North. Oxford [etc.]: Oxford University Press.

Bayat, A. and L. Herrera (2010) ‘Introduction: Being Young and Muslim in Neoliberal Times’ in A. Bayat and L. Herrera (eds.) Being Young and Muslim: New Cultural Politics in the Global South and North. Oxford [etc.]: Oxford University Press.

Comaroff, J. and J. Comaroff (2005), ‘Reflections on Youth: From the Past to the Postcolony’ in A. Honwana and F. De Boeck (eds.) Makers and Breakers: Children and Youth in Postcolonial Africa, Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, p. 19-30.

Evands, M., 20.02.2015 –last update, “Three missing London schoolgirls ‘travelling to Syria to join Isil’ [Online]. Available: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/11424884/Three-missing-British-schoolgirls-travel-to-Syria.html Accessed: 15.03.2015]

Iqbal, N., 24.02.2015 – last update, ‘The Syria-bound schoolgirls aren’t jihadi devil-women, they’re vulnerable children’ [Online] Available: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/feb/24/syria-bound-schoolgirls-arent-jihadi-devil-women-theyre-vulnerable-children?CMP=fb_gu Accessed: 15.03.2015]


Terre des Hommes Stop Webcam Child Sex Tourism’ campaign forcefully calls attention to the exploitation of children in cybersex. The campaign raises many questions and, I argue, constitutes an example of doing development James Bond style.

Discussions on ICTs in relation to children present an awkward divide. In the literature pertaining to the western world there is increasing attention to problematic aspects, including cyber bullying, online grooming, etc. Such issues are hardly discussed in the development studies literature concerning children and ICTs. Here, ICTs remain predominantly seen in a bright positive light, exemplified by slogans as ICT4D, and the various ‘1 laptop per child’ initiatives.

The recently launched Terre des Hommes campaign ‘Stop Webcam Child Sex Tourism’ does much to problematize this state of affairs. As part of their efforts to stop child sexual exploitation, they have now zoomed into ‘Webcam Child Sex Tourism, which Terre des Hommes understands as: ‘when adults pay to direct and view live-streaming video footage of children in another country performing sexual acts in front of a webcam’.

Central to the campaign is ‘Sweetie’, a virtual 10 year old girl from the Philippines who was used by Terre des Hommes researchers as a ‘bait’ in cyberspace. In a nearly 8 minute youtube clip Sweetie tells her story. Over a period of two months the research team caught, by manipulating Sweetie, 1000 individuals from more than 65 countries red-handed. They tracked their details and recorded their practices. The file is handed over to the Dutch police.

The message Terre des Hommes sends into the world is seductively simple: ‘If our researchers and Sweetie can track more than 1,000 webcam child sex tourists in only 2 months’ time, the international police should be able to trace 100.000 a year.’ They have thus opened an online petition to ‘Justice ministers, police chiefs and child protection chiefs’. The petition text reads as follows:

‘As citizens concerned about children’s mental and physical welfare, we call on you to crack down on Webcam Child Sex Tourism. This will require announcing a plan for intercepting potential predators in public chat rooms, initiating prosecutions and challenging intermediaries who enable and profit from this vile trade. We expect you to act fast, decisively and accountably, to prevent more young lives being ruined.’ 

So far the campaign details. However, the significance of the campaign is only partly found in its details – there is more happening here.

Watching the youtube clip there were a few features that struck me. The clip starts as an investigative detective. No spoken words, no images of people. Just words appearing on screen in a firm capitalized font. Intense music is adding to the atmosphere that is built up. As with all detectives, we know that something will be uncovered. Something that we couldn’t imagine just a few seconds ago.

There are numbers. Presented in digital counters, suggesting great certainty about the smallest of details. From numerical and digital precision we move to global visions. We oversee it all. We see a globe rotating. We see maps. We see tiny lights appearing on the surface of the earth. That’s where the perpetrators are, we can see them! They are caught, and we have recorded every detail whoever and wherever they are.

This grand act of knowing is staged in a highly masculine manner. With the exception of one, all actual people appearing in the clip are male, the researchers, the Terre des Hommes director, and also the voice-over is a sure, never failing male voice. These are not random men. These are the good men! ‘Good’ in various ways as is evident from the sharp contrast with the blurred images of the male perpetrators with their overweight bodies caught in shameful acts. These are the bad men, without doubt. Masculinity is there too in the construction of Sweetie. It is men who have masterminded and control this virtual image, and it is their technology that is going to save us from the bad men out there.

How should we understand this all? This is more than a campaign and Terre des Hommes is a large international NGO (non-governmental organization). What we see here is far from insignificant. We have had Angelina Jolie, Marco Borsato, and various other international and national celebrities giving publicity to a range of (I)NGOs and their activities. There is none of them here. Or perhaps there is, but it is taken to another level.

We don’t get the celebrity actors and actresses. But even better, we get the big thriller that made them famous. Just like James Bond there is an intimate link with the state, and Terre des Hommes, not unlike James Bond, simultaneously acts in ways that (most) state-actors won’t get away with. Altogether, the campaign is a powerful (if subliminal) rebuttal to current critiques and cynicism about the potency of development work. This is perhaps best captured by the call for ‘proactive policing’ through the use of virtual baits to track and catch ‘predators’ even before any actual crime is committed involving actual human beings. Yet this resurrection of development practice is also a particular one. A development fantasy is constructed that seamlessly combines the MDG obsession with numbers and targets, with high-tech and virtual bodies. The practice of ‘proactive policing’ deeply complicates any state-nonstate distinction, and the entire project is framed in a highly masculine style. Is development, then, once again the terrain of good guys saving us from the bad ones, but this time in James Bond style?

posted by Roy Huijsmans



Just over a month ago it was “International Children’s Day’ (1st June), a day usually marked with interesting speeches.

Perhaps there is a worthwhile project in analysing the various speeches that officials, the world over, delivered on the occasion? It may give an interesting impression of the different ways childhood is constructed in relation to various national histories and development trajectories.

Should you know of some speeches, please post them. As a starter, here is the speech by the Lao Prime Minister Mr Thongsing Thammavong:

Amidst the atmosphere  where the  whole  Party, armed forces and the entire society throughout the country is actively implementing  the  Resolution  of  the  9th  Party  Congress  and  the Seventh Five-Year Socio-Economic Development Plan (2011-2015) in parallel with the creation of political grass-roots activities based on the ‘Three builds’ directive and four breakthroughs approach, we together celebrate International Children’s Day (June 1).

This  occasion  provides  us  with  a  good  opportunity  to  review  the implementation  of  our  Party  and  government’s  policies  towards  the children of the multi-ethnic Lao  people as  well as other conventions related  to  children,  particularly  the  Convention  on  the  Rights  of  the Child.

As  we  approach  the  mid-term  review  of  the  implementation  of  the policies since the Party Congress in 2011, we are proud to see that our country has been developing at a rapid pace with economic growth averaging 8.2 percent annually. Our country has also enjoyed political stability, security and social order.

While progress has been made in regards to developing necessary infrastructure including the expansion of the  communications  and  transportation  networks  to  the  village  level,  we  must  also  pay  attention  to  socio cultural development in association with environmental protection. The accomplishment of this task reflects the progress made towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), for which we should be congratulated.

Some  notable  achievements  include  the  overall  poverty  rate  declining  to  20.5  percent;  the  poverty  rate among families falling to 16 percent; the primary school enrolment rate reaching 96.8 percent; primary school completion rates rising to 71.4 percent; the equality ratio between boys’ and girls’ access to primary schools standing at 0.95, to lower secondary schools at 0.89, to upper secondary schools at 0.83 and higher levels at 0.77.

In relation to health, there were many achievements including the mortality rate of children under 1 year old falling  to  48/1,000;  the  mortality  rate  of  children  under  5  falling   to  61/1,000;  the  maternal  mortality  rate reducing  to  339/100,000.  Meanwhile  37  percent  of  women  giving  birth  are  now  assisted  by  doctors;  the HIV/AIDs rate is low at 0.28 percent; the rate of people with access to clean water is now 79.5 percent and the rate of people using latrines stands at 55 percent.

In  regards  to  the  above  achievements,  on  behalf  of  the  Lao  government,  I  would  like  to  congratulate  the National Commission for Mother and Child from the central and local levels, various sectors, local authorities, the  Lao  Front  for  National  Construction,  mass  organisations  and  other  organisations  as  well  as  State  and private  business  units  and  the  multi-ethnic  Lao  people  for  their  progressive  contribution  to  the  task  of protecting mothers and their children.

On this occasion of significance, I’d like to express my thanks to friendly nations, international organisations, international  financial  institutions  and  non-governmental  organisations  for  their  assistance  to  Laos  in  this sector and hope that you will continue to support us in the future.

Despite the achievements we have made to lay a firm foundation for Laos to accomplish the MDGs in 2015, we still encounter some obstacles and challenges. We have the problem of malnutrition, which has caused our  children  to  be  underweight  and  short;  the  problem  of  high  mortality  rates  among  mothers  and  their children.  Meanwhile  the  completion  rates  among  primary  and  secondary  school  children  are  still  low, particularly among girls; and many people still lack access to clean water and latrines.

Even now, people in some local areas continue to practice open defecation, which is considered a cause to the spread and outbreak of diseases, threatening the health of mothers and their children.

Moreover, the disparities in  development between urban and rural areas remains a challenge in regards to accomplishing the MDGs in 2015, particularly people’s access to education and health services.

In addition, we still encounter some negative social phenomena which are related to the thinking, knowledge and awareness of some people who remain influenced by out-of-date traditions and beliefs.

Out-of-date  traditions  mean  people  have  yet  to  attach  great  importance  in  taking  care  of  and  creating opportunities for children, particularly girls, so they can experience inclusive development and be protected from  negative  social  phenomenons  such  as  amphetamines,  oppression,  domestic  violence  in  all  forms, illegal child labour, victims of human trafficking, prostitution, pornography and child labour.

Although  girls  in  remote  areas  have  access  to  educational  opportunities,  the  rate  of  girls’  enrolment  and completion continues to decline. Other problems are underage marriage and premature birth delivery.

We observe that some of our children do not concentrate much on education so that they can acquire actual knowledge.  On  the  contrary,  many  of  them  hold  on  to  extravagance  and  rush,  aiming  only  to  obtain certificates.

However, we give special priority to children with disabilities, orphans, abandoned children, children addicted to  drugs,  children  infected  by  HIV/AIDs,  children  affected  by  natural  disasters,  children  labouring  in hazardous  conditions  which  threaten  their  health  as  well  as  children  who  are  victims  of  human trafficking and other violence.

On the occasion of the International Children’s Day celebration (June 1) 2013, on behalf of the government, I would  like  to  urge  organisations  from  the  Party,  government,  Lao  Front  for  National  Construction,  mass organisations and other organisations as well as State and private business units and the multi-ethnic Lao people to enhance their responsibilities and efforts to implement the task related to our children in the next mid-term until 2015. Our aim is to ensure the survival, protection and development of our children, enabling them to move forwards towards prosperity, and enjoy warmth from families, organisations and society.

posted by Roy Huijsmans

posted by Roy Huijsmans

UNFPA has published, what they call a ‘status report‘ on adolescents and young people in Sub-Saharan Africa. The report is based on the much criticised idea of ‘youth transitions’ (see for example HERE). This is made clear on p. 4 where it states that:

Young people are experiencing a time of transition, full of physical, psychological, emotional and economic changes as they leave childhood and enter adulthood. The decisions that are made during this period of life affect not only the individual wellbeing of young people, but also the wellbeing of entire societies. Ensuring that young people can successfully navigate this phase of life will help break the cycle of poverty and produce benefits for individuals, communities and nations.

Reporting the ‘status’ of adolescents and youth in the Sub-Saharan countries is then effectively an assessement of how well these countries have performed against a number of normative thressholds measured on a national scale. For easy reading UNFPA uses colour coding on an interactive map, with ‘red’ identifying ‘countries that need to take immediate action to address a particular indicator’, ‘yellow’ to denote ‘countries that are making progress…but may need additional investments’, and ‘green’ to for ‘countries that are making exceptional progress’. 

One of the normative indicators is the ‘age at first sex‘ (the median age by which one half of young people aged 15-24 have had penetrative sex). Leaving questions about the reliability of such data aside for the moment, these interactive maps effectively turn the map of Sub-Saharan Africa into a topographic landscape of different degrees of ‘problems’ and ‘progress’. What is erased in the interactive exercise are important questions of who has defined the criteria of what is considered ‘problem’ and ‘progress’? for whom? and is what matters the age of first sex or the conditions and sets of relationships in which this takes place?

posted by Roy Huijsmans

Children have long featured in debates on guns in the US (see for example reports by the Children’s Defense Fund) but perhaps not as centrally as is the case now. All major US news-sites report on the role of children in both Obama’s announcement of a package aiming to lead to a reduction in gun violence, and in a video released by the National Rifle Association which calls for the precise opposite: more guns in the name of securing American children.

It is interesting too to take note of the framing of children’s voices. Fox News runs an article entitled ‘Obama deploys kids in push for gun ban’ and speaks of the use of children ‘to advance a political agenda’. The New Yorker reporting on the same event in an article entitled ‘Children at Obama’s gun speech’ describes the letter-writing children as ‘political actors’ and ‘petitioners of their President and their government’.

posted by Roy Huijsmans

TeachUNICEF‘ is an online portfolio offering ‘free global education resources’ on topics ranging from ‘human trafficking’ to ‘peace education’. Resources include lesson plans, stories, and multimedia resources, all with the stated aim of supporting and creating ‘well-informed global citizens who understand interconnectedness, respect and value diversity, have the ability to challenge injustice and inequities and take action in personally meaningful ways’.

The resources appear designed for consumption in the Global North, or in some instances for the USA specifically as is evident from question 4.3 of Lesson 1 in the ‘End Trafficking’ pack for grades 6-8:

‘Where does human trafficking occur in the United States?’ (the correct answer is given as: ‘Human trafficking has been reported in all 50 states, with particularly high rates in California, Texas, Florida, and New York’

Furthermore, the lesson plans are made ‘age appropriate’. In the same lesson pack on Ending Trafficking it is for example suggested that ‘sex trafficking’ may be omitted from the lessons on child trafficking ‘due to the age of the intended audience’. For this reason, the resources including sex trafficking have been marked as ‘optional’ and should these be included, UNICEF ‘recommend[s] that you collaborate with and gain the support of your administration, school mental health professionals, and your students’ families before including this mature content’.

The site also includes an interactive map, allowing educators to scroll the globe and to navigate from a PODCAST on ‘the recruitment of child soldiers in Somalia’ to a VIDEO on ‘UNICEF reponds to nutrition crisis in the Sahel’ pinned down in Chad, and to ‘Action: Advocacy’ pinned down in the USA.

In short, TeachUNICEF offers plenty of material to study the representation of geographies of development. A study of the ‘consumption’ of these ‘global resources’ in classrooms in the Global North would also be of great interest. This would illuminate how these lessons (plans) are appropriated in diverse settings and this may shed some light on whether the stated aims of TeachUNICEF are indeed achieved.


Posted by Roy Huijsmans

In their efforts to increase global school attendance UNESCO acclaims that ‘We cannot afford to ignore the data’. But what about representations of ‘development and education’ in both text and image in global education campaigns? Does it matter that we speak about ‘children slipping away’, and what to make of ‘catch these kids while we can’? Whose is the ‘we’? Why ‘catch’? What is written out of the script through such representations?

And what about the metaphor of school as an hot-air balloon? Is here a parallel drawn between physical laws and the role of schooling in upward social mobility? What sort of questions are here then erased, and how does this, for example, relate to rising concerns about ‘educated unemployment‘?

International Institute of Social Studies

ISS is an international graduate school of policy-oriented critical social science. It brings together students and teachers from the Global South and the North in a European environment.