THE HARSH REALITY BEHIND THE GLAMORIZED IMAGES OF SUFFERING CHILDREN IN WAR

By Vincent Lyn & Joel Mugarura

2019: Cinderella of War — Six-year-old Sana’a photo in al-Rahma refugee camp Syria, captured the world’s attention photo courtesy of Ahmad al-Ahmad

War, with all its cruelty and ugliness, could not steal the beauty, innocence and wonder of the six-year-old girl, Sana’a, despite suffering a life of poverty and asylum. The child was displaced with her family from Hama’s countryside and was moved into the al-Rahma refugee camp. Her photos spread on social media and the world’s leading magazines and newspapers in less than two days.

A local photojournalist Ahmad al- Ahmad took the photo of Sana’a on July 23, 2019 in al-Rahma camp, north of Kali town in Idlib countryside, during a photo tour there. He then posted it on his Instagram, Twitter and Facebook accounts, and was later shared by his fans on their pages.

The photo captured the attention when it spread across the internet to shed the light on the ongoing offensive by the Syrian regime and Russia that displaced more than 1.5 million people since April 2020, the majority of those fleeing have been displaced within Idlib Governorate while a smaller number have moved into northern Aleppo Governorate, said the U.N, as bombs continue to rain down on civilians in northwestern Syria. They live in camps and the open air under olive trees. Websites and social media pages posted a photo of a blonde child who seemed to be in a tent. The photo was published in many prominent British magazines and many social media users calling the child “Cinderella of Camps” and in the refugee camp has been called the child “Cinderella of Wars”.

To a fortunate many, war is an abstraction and the suffering it brings, though easy to understand, is hard to truly imagine. It’s one of the reasons war photography and images of conflict are so essential. They bring these concepts into blinding focus and deny us the luxury of looking away.

Who could ignore an image of a young refugee’s lifeless body washed up on a beach, the desperate quest for a better life extinguished before it could be fulfilled? Who wouldn’t be moved, disturbed even, by a child screaming and covered in her parents’ blood?

There’s a reason so many of these indelible images are often of children. While war seeks to paint in black and white, good and evil; a child is never the enemy. And yet, they are so often the victims. To see a child this way is to see war without politics or ideologies. What’s left underneath is just crushing human sorrow. Why, ever, would such immortalized heartbreak be necessary? Because it’s easy to lose focus. Violence is so widespread, yet often so far away, and our hyperconnected consumption means burnout or disinterest can set in at an alarming rate.

We may know, intellectually, what a tragedy it is that more than 100,000 children die every year because of armed conflict around the world. We may think we know the real cost of conflict.

As the photos below, it sometimes takes a singular excruciating image for it to truly sink in.

2015: Bodrum, Turkey — An arresting image of a migrant child’s dead body washed up on a Turkish beach served as a tragic reminder of the risks faced by Syrian refugees. The photo also became a touchstone for discussions about how Europe and other countries should approach the refugee crisis.
2005: Tal Afar, Iraq — In a time when truly resonant war photos were hard to come by due to the dangerous climate in Iraq, a photographer captured a truly wrenching moment. The girl is Samar Hassan, screaming and spattered with blood after her parents were mistakenly killed and her brother was wounded by U.S. troops. The image was widely used to represent the true civilian cost of international conflict.
2014: Gaza City — A man carries a child as another lies dead after an Israeli airstrike on a Gaza City beach in July 2014. At least four boys, ages 9 to 11, were killed. The Israeli military investigated the tragedy and reported that the location of the attack was known to be a compound of Hamas police and naval forces. “Tragically, in the wake of the incident it became clear that the outcome of the attack was the death of four children who had entered the military compound for reasons that remain unclear,” the report stated.
2003: Najaf, Iraq — An Iraqi prisoner of war comforts his son in a POW holding zone. The emotional image won the 2003 World Press Photo award.
2001: Quetta, Pakistan — Seven-year-old Fermina Bibi, from Kandahar, Afghanistan, lies wounded in a hospital bed. She and her brother were injured when their home in Kandahar was bombed. They were transported to Pakistan for treatment.
2003: Central Iraq — A U.S. Navy hospital corpsman holds an Iraqi boy. Confused front-line crossfire ripped apart an Iraqi family. This moment of compassion was captured barely a year after the official start of the U.S.-led war in Iraq.
1972: Trang Bang, South Vietnam — Nine-year-old Kim Phuc wails in agony as she and her fellow villagers flee a napalm attack. This unflinching look into the horrors of the Vietnam War earned a Pulitzer Prize. Phuc survived, and eventually started her own foundation to aid child victims of war.
2018: Eight-year-old Maya a Syrian girl, born with no legs who used limbs fashioned by her father from tin cans to walk, is receiving treatment and taking her first steps in Istanbul on prosthetic limbs after photos of her struggling to move around a tent refugee encampment in Idlib, Syria went went viral on social media.

After ten years of war in Syria, more than half of the children continue to be deprived of education. The catastrophic conditions in which the displaced people live are also among the factors that claim the lives of Syrians, as a father, mother and their two children were killed by suffocation inside their tent in the “Dia 3” camp near the town of “Kali” in Idlib countryside, due to the poor heating method used. According to the information obtained by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, “the family of Muhammad Hamadeh, his wife Amoun Al-Saleem and his two children (Hoda and Hour), all of whom were displaced from (Kafr Roma) in southern Idlib countryside, died of suffocation after burning coal in an old fireplace in their tent that they received, because they couldn’t buy a fireplace”. Eyewitness sources said: “The fireplace was outside the tent during the night, but because of the severe cold, they entered it, so the four family members got suffocated inside the tent, a small place that had very little oxygen already. The family’s neighbors found their family after they suffocated. After their transfer to nearby medical points, it became clear that the cause of death was the gas from the heater. At the same time, a child died in the Afrin Hospital as a result of the tragic situation in which the displaced people live, where sources told the “Syrian Observatory” that “The father of the child brought her to Afrin Hospital thinking that she was suffering from a minor illness, as he walked out of his tent at 5 am and carried her for two hours in the bitter cold on the road, and when he arrived at the hospital, his daughter had died of hypothermia, due to the fact that her father did not have any means of transportation”.

People who have never witnessed WAR will think War is just shooting guns and killing people. They forget that:

War is starvation, War is rape, War is deprivation of movement, War is fear, War is lack of access to health-care, War is lack of access to wealth, War is disease, War is hopelessness, War is losing children, War is losing parents, War is losing your spouse, War is losing loved ones, War is not going to school, War is not going to work, War is excreting right in your hiding spot, War is having to drink your own urine, War is creating an entire generation who will be illiterate, War is so much more than shooting guns and ending lives.

Even after War is declared over, it will take decades for a nation to heal and reconcile and rebuild. Ask Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Vietnam, Rwanda, Congo, Liberia, South Sudan, Myanmar, Kashmir. War in reality is different than war in the movies. When next you wish for War ask those who have actually witnessed it. Everyone becomes a casualty of War both dead and living.

“War Has Never And Will Never Be The Solution!”

Vincent Lyn

CEO/Founder at We Can Save Children

Director of Creative Development at African Views Organization

Economic & Social Council at United Nations

Middle East Correspondent at Wall Street News Agency

Rescue & Recovery Specialist at International Confederation of Police & Security Experts

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Vincent Lyn

CEO-We Can Save Children. Director Creative Development-African Views Organization, ECOSOC at United Nations. International Human Rights Commission (IHRC)