Censorship at SOS Children?
An editorial by Andrew Cates, CEO of SOS Children UK. Child charities tread a difficult path between standing up for what is right and turning into a "cultural colonial", imposing Western values where they do not belong. We do not always get it right and are interested in feedback on the issue.
I was recently accused by a colleague of censorship. I was a little surprised since I always think of myself as rather liberal so I listened to his remarks carefully.
The reason was my decision not to include some of the video opinions which had come out of the remarkable our Africa project on to the website (or more accurately my decision to ask for them to be removed). The issue might have been about disagreeing with the opinions voiced (indeed you might search for a while to find someone who would whole-heartedly embrace the opinion of a child along the lines that homosexuality is dreadful but that the death penalty was "too harsh"; it reminded me rather of the satirical A E Houseman poem "who is that young sinner" when I first saw the footage).
Disagreeing with opinions in the developing world gives people like me angst (just as undemocratic decisions taken democratically causes issues for democrats). At the end of the day at SOS Children we always want it both ways: to focus on our key issue of children with parental care but to be involved citizens in the local community with our eyes open; to respect local culture and religion but to ensure children are protected and moderation is pervasive.
SOS Children internationally does not get involved in issues like religion (our SOS Mothers, once carefully selected, are free to bring up the children in their own religion), but we forbid corporal punishment in our Villages and operate a child protection policy which has lots of safeguards and opportunities for children to be heard. These generally exceed the safeguards for children in the prevailing culture but of course we don't regard that as cultural colonialism, nor is campaigning against female genital mutilation or against the killing of "witch children".
And what about birth control and abortion? At present the decision is pushed down to the local medical officer in an environment. Over the years it must have been tempting to interfere (given 60 years ago that our founder was a Roman Catholic doctor) but I am pleased we have always managed to draw the line. And on the ground the local medical officers are pretty level headed.
And now we are working on something called a "gender policy". That's about whether some element of our family support programs (which prevent children in families on the brink from being abandoned on to the streets and get them back into school) should also try to empower and strengthen the role of women in society. Is that part of being a responsible community player or should we mind our own business? We cannot fix everything.
But back to the video of a Ugandan child giving his opinions. Should I censor it? No. Should it go on the "our Africa" website? No, because that website is intended to be child friendly for younger children for whom the concepts and (more importantly context) would be unknown. I don't mind Jean-Paul's opinions being broadcast but I don't think they should be the first opinion on the subject which a younger child ever hears.