Child welfare
across borders
  Session 3 - A social justice framework



Exercise 3.1
Images and representations of childhood

Aims of exercise

Bullet to bring into focus the ways in which adults construct children and their lives
Bullet to explore the emotional and personal responses created by imagery of children
Bullet to understand more the use and abuses of power yielded by adults in constructing specific constructs of childhood
Bullet to raise awareness and encourage debate about the role and potential of the www for both perpetuating and increasing abuses of children and also challenging and addressing existing and emerging forms of abuse and exploitation


Imagery the twentieth century was a powerful weapon in cementing or unsettling many of the ideas held in society about children, used in advertising, journalism and in awareness-raising for lobbying groups. As Holland (1992:9) says of imagery of children:

We find a constant attempt to buttonhole viewers, to pin them down and trap them within a limited field of meaning. Instead of allowing space for understanding to develop, we find attempts to secure meanings within a structure of power that establish their own regimes of truth. We find a denial of ambiguity, a fear of interpretations which may run out of control……The image classifies, sorts and labels, attempting to hold fast meanings which will be clear and uncontaminated. Pictures of children take their place in this complex system like words in language.


1. Here are some links to photographs of children and childhood. Have a look at some of them. Two sites have been chosen thatuse very provocative images.

Warning: You can browse or search the internet for other images, but be careful about the search terms you use. If you search on terms such as 'child', 'child sexual abuse' you will find a wide range of relevant sites (including some very partisan ones). If you search on 'child sex' you will find mainly porn sites. 'Child images' will produce a mixture or porn, religion, social welfare and general sites . Some institutions log which sites you access and may (theoretically) question your access. In most countries it is a criminal offence to download or print child pornographic images.

War child
Barnados (UK)




Questions Your comments and reactions to images
What emotions or responses did you have to the pictures?
What representation of children and/or childhood do you think the pictures promote
How far and in what ways do you think your representation are culturally and historically bound?*
Did any pictures challenge what you think are current social constructions of childhood?
In what specific ways do you think child welfare policy and practice in your country promotes these constructions?
Please list any ways in which you feel children or adults acting on their behalf can challenge these ideas and expectations?


Some of the labels and representations you might have identified include children as:

  • vulnerable
  • at risk
  • immature
  • precocious
  • dependent
  • in need of protection or control
  • girls getting into trouble
  • boys as trouble
  • labels created from gendered + racialised + classed identities
  • adolescence as a time of disruption and turmoil

3. You may wish to look further at the ways in which images of children are used on the WWW by accessing some of the source sites for the pictures.

Next When you have finished this exercise proceed to topic Topic 3.3