OPINION

Child Artists - Prodigies Or Fodder For Pedophiles?

March 23, 2008
Kim

There are a surfeit of reality programs/contests geared for kids on TV these days. There are also a number of kids who act/dance in TV serials and movies.

I have a few basic issues with child performers and their overall development as human beings, after being thrust into the limelight at a young age. But at the end of the day, their parents are their custodians should be taking care of the mental development of their children.

Coming to the singing and dancing contests, most of the judges do try to be gentle with the children, but some of them are quite rude and fancy themselves as the Indian answer to Simon Cowell. This is terrible for the self esteem of young children who have not yet developed the coping mechanisms of dealing with negative comments directed at them (especially on National TV)

A friend of mine in the advertising industry, told me of an audition they had called for, a week ago in Bombay. It was on a week day during school timings. More than 5000 parents turned up with their children. Obviously the company could not see them all on the same day. The parents whose children did not get a chance on Day 1 were prepared to come back every day of the next week and longer, if it meant getting their child a chance to audition. Not a chance to act, not a chance to be in a movie, but the chance to audition. They were willing to have their child miss school for over a week for a chance to audition for a silent role in an advertisement.

My mom would have turned down Karan Johar or Yash Chopra themselves, even if they had guaranteed me or my siblings a leading role in their upcoming movie, if it meant missing even half an hour of school.

Parents these days are trying to push their children into the limelight too soon. We do not have much data on grown up child stars in India. But look at Hollywood. With the exception of the Olsen twins (who also had their weight problems) which of the child stars has emerged as a balanced human being ?

In spite of all this background, my main issue is with the kind of performances that some of these children are being coerced into displaying here in India.

They are dancing to item number songs. 6-12 year olds dancing to the steps of Helen or even worse - Rakhi Sawant and her ilk. Rakhi is old enough and smart enough to know what kind of effect her jhatak mataks & clothes can have on the adult male population. What do these little ones know and why should they know it so early in their life?

Look at the kid in the "cutting-shutting" paint ad. She was memorable for being what a normal 7 year old child would be. So why is the media trying to con us into believing that 6 year olds are old enough to be dancing as vamps and item girls? Why are they sexualizing young children?

The US has a long history of child beauty pageants and an equally long history of pedophiles who follow the child beauty pageant circuits. Mental health experts almost all agree, that exposing young children to the sordid world behind the glamor is completely unhealthy for their well being. And the end result of making children dress, dance and act like adults makes them easier targets for pedophiles.

Agreed we do not have a well documented history of Indian pedophile cases. The only ones that make the news are when foreigners abuse children under the guise of orphanages or children's homes. But that does not mean that pedophilia doesn't exist in India.

The actions of these children is perfect fodder for the appetites of pedophiles. They even look obscene to the general public (I hope its to the general public and not just a minority of people like me)

So why are these children doing this? Is it pressure from parents or from the media to be all grown up and dance like a vamp? Or is it because the Shiamak Davar dance classes makes them seem OK? - His dances choreographed for children are reasonably age appropriate, but he sometimes has a couple of children dancing with the older members of the troupe and performing the same steps as the 20+ year old troupe members.

Fortunately Javed Jaffery tried to bring about a voice of sanity in an episode that I watched today of Sansui Boogie Woogie - he is the first Indian celebrity who I have heard talking about age appropriate steps. But he wasn't strong enough in condemning this practice. As the celebrity anchor on the biggest launch pad for dance talent in India, he could afford to be much more stronger on his disapproval of some of the steps.

I hope parents begin to see sense some time soon. They are always going to try to live out their own dreams through their children - that isn't going to change any time soon. But I do hope they stop turning their children into adults before their time.

Kim blogs on a variety of subjects on her many blogs : Egypt, Restaurant Reviews, her alma mater, Mumbai & other stuff Currently she is in Egypt among the pyramids, bedouin & camels & blogging furiously about them all.
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#1
Deepti Lamba
URL
March 23, 2008
12:39 AM

Kim, I saw this kiddie competition once and decided it was the most horrendous thing I had ever watched.

Kids should be encouraged to take up extracurricular activities but not the cost of their studies and especially not at the cost of their childhood.

#2
Anand Menon
March 23, 2008
02:00 AM

another case of parents projecting their own thwarted ambitions onto their kids ....with disastrous consequences.

Films like "Little Miss Sunshine" and the Tom Hanks starrer "Big" explored the themes of becoming an adult too fast.

#3
Aparna
March 23, 2008
02:26 AM

yes, i agree with you. kids doing the same steps as srk or any other adult actor look quite obscene....kids look good as kids , not as extras....

#4
temporal
URL
March 23, 2008
02:28 PM

kim:

Agreed we do not have a well documented history of Indian pedophile cases. The only ones that make the news are when foreigners abuse children under the guise of orphanages or children's homes. But that does not mean that pedophilia doesn't exist in India.

... to ponder and do something about?

here the ad agencies voluntarily avoid shoots if the child model/actor has school

since the issue is still in infancy...eventually a mature effort will evolve...some voluntary industry rules blended with regulations from the state

#5
Jason Wright
March 23, 2008
03:39 PM

I'm currently a graduate student in sociology working on a dissertation that attempts to understand the way our society chooses to talk about, view, and treat children. So I found this blog post rather interesting and I would like to respond using some main points I use in my thesis.

The zeal that I detect behind this blog post, whether it is apparent to the author or not, is the current (and Victorian) idea that children are "proto humans," meaning they are viewed as "adults in the making" (where adult equates to full human) and not as sentient being in their own rights.

Under such ideology children are broken into two classes: innocent or victim. Beneath the "Innocent" label parents (and cluture) live in a world swimming with paranoia concerning some magical, lurking enemy of children that has traditionally been given the name of "sexuality," but can also take the form of any activity that is against the expressed ideology of the parent. Innocence confirms to very stereotypical sexual roles enforced, ironically, by the very media and popular cultural issues condemned in the blog posting above. (I'll not go in to how child beauty pageants are extremely conservative and anti-sexual, but allow the reader of this response to maybe do his or her own investigation of that world and its glaring contradictions.)

The second category mostly unspoken but strongly intoned in the author's blog post is "Victim." Victim is the child that has been "dirtied" by the activities believed to be "inappropriate" by the dominant hierarchy (AKA, the parents and their social structure.) Beneath the label of Victim children move out of the Innocent zone forever and are spoken about using another rhetoric, another language almost. Here children are "saved," "salvaged," and "rehabilitated." The concept is that this child, this pre-adult has transgressed the lines of Innocence (never by his or her own will) and now is part of the army attacking the world of Innocence.

Both these titles are used by the majority of psychologists, social workers, law enforcement, judges, clergy and parents. And both these titles suggest a slave-like ownership of children, the unspoken law that children cannot be considered completely human, only partially so. Indeed, innocence is as much a violent category as victim, and a thin veil (in my opinion) over the true abuse of children perpetrated not by the magical dark force that has been named in sexual terms (i.e., pedophile, sexualized, sexualized too young), but by the very society that plays the charade of wanting to "protect children."

Innocence, when it comes to "childhood" in our popular rhetoric, IS denoted by the child existing in a rhetoric that denies any sort of sexual identity or respect of sexual experience.

Victim, on the other hand, when it comes to "childhood" in our popular rhetoric, is less an abuse of the child (though real abuse does inhabit this vocabulary) but "victim" is an assault on the rhetoric and vocabulary of "Innocence."

Now, the real world results of the rhetoric can be seen IF one is willing to look. The rhetoric of innocence comes by denying any sort of experience to children, any form of sexual play-acting or real sexual gratification must be violently suppressed for the vocabulary to hold power. The concept that "kids look good as kids" is not a reality, but an act of power and control over those who have not yet gained the legal age of majority. (A similar expression: "That Black man acts too white." Or "Why does she act so black?")

The real world violence involved in the rhetoric of victim comes with sedation, segregation, and incarceration. It is viewed in the disproportionate numbers of children in foster care who are forced, against their will, to take mind altering/mind-numbing medications. The violence is also viewed by separating, so to speak, the dirty children from the clean children. Children who have been caught breaking the adult's rhetoric--usually by having sex--are now being listed on sexual offender registries as young as 10-years-old. Middle schools and high schools across the country are publicly outing children as they appear on these registries as harshly as any adult sexual offender. And in retaliation for a child's voluntary sexual act, he or she can very easily be incarcerated until that child reaches the age of majority, and then must live under the public shame of the label "Registered Sexual Offender."

I wish to make a few final conclusions with the understanding that I haven't the time here to plead my entire body of research or even a fraction of the theoretical work involved. Also, I understand that this is an opinionated blog and by no means do I expect an academic response.

In conclusion, 1) We are currently living in a period of hysteria, or heightened attention to the sexuality of children. 2) This type of hysteria is as unique (and similar) as any hysteria before it (i.e., the communist scare). 3) This hysteria is encased within a rhetoric of human ownership where the property is children and the property value of children is assessed in terms of Innocence and Victim, where children under the title of Innocent are worth more than the children under the title of Victim. 4) All this expresses an abuse of the humanistic rights of children to be human, just as the slave trade expressed an abuse of the humanistic rights of Blacks to be human. 5) To allow children the human right to be human means that they cannot be denied sexuality--and this concept is as revolutionary an act as arguing for the rights of Blacks in pre-Civil Rights America or apartheid South Africa, or arguing for the rights of Jews in Nazi Germany.

#6
Kim
URL
March 23, 2008
04:55 PM

t,

I was just looking at your comment and it made me wonder why the "zero tolerance of child labor" (in name at least) laws aren't being invoked against kids performing in serials and movies?

Any legal experts around who know what subclauses are being invoked to allow this practice ?

theoretical question only. I'm not a masked crusader championing the rights of children in the entertainment industry. I would rather reserve my zeal for kids who are forced into work by extreme economical circumstances.

#7
temporal
URL
March 23, 2008
05:18 PM

kim:

am no expert either but i would offer this:

"voluntary" and "involuntary"

to make a point here demos and campaigns are common outside stores that buy product from third world countries where child labour is rampant

and some of the same parents allow their children to "deliver" the newspapers in the neighbourhood for a fee

#8
temporal
URL
March 23, 2008
05:20 PM

Jason:

thanks for a reasoned post

tell me this: why is there a minimum legal age for drinking/driving/voting (take your pick) in all countries?

#9
temporal
URL
March 23, 2008
05:38 PM

and one more for your comments Jason:

in THIS news, both are what we term here in the west as "minors"

#10
Kim
URL
March 23, 2008
06:04 PM

Jason,
If you noticed this post is filed as an opinion, hence it is obviously Opinionated.

As to your comment that you do not expect an academic response : I hope the hypothesis behind that is that I (the author) do not have a dissertation ready on this topic. I hope you haven't assumed a faulty hypothesis of the author not being "academically sound" because I teach Individual, Group & Organisational Behaviour at University level.

Now that we have dealt with the possible hypothesis, let us come to the content of your post. While you have made a lot of postulates couched in jargon, I am glad you have summarised your post in 5 points for the readers from non-sociology backgrounds. Since you have summarised your post in those 5 points, let me respond to exactly those.

Conclusion 1 : I agree with it in the US context not in the South Asia context (which is the focus of Desi critics and its writers) In South Asia, there may be a raised awareness, but it has not reached the proportions of hysteria yet, unlike the US (I have lived in the US too, so I know what I'm talking about, I'm not making an assumption)

Conclusion 2 : Same rebuttal as on Conclusion 1.

Conclusion 3 : In South Asia, the property value of children is assessed based on performance in examinations and other competitive events and is graded relatively to performance of other children in the childs/parents social, familial and academic circles, rather than on "Innocent" or "Victim"

Conclusion 4 : I honestly believe the humanistic rights of children to be children overrides the rights of children to be human (human - as defined by you in your study seems to be equated with adult). Trying to correlate this scenario to the slave trade and abuse of the humanistic rights of (I think the term you wanted to use was) - African Americans to be human is stretching it way too far.
Children are children and despite what you may believe there is such a thing as age appropriateness. You wouldn't have a 5 year old or a 10 year old handling a cash register at a fast food center, would you ? Why then do you think the age is appropriate for having sex (you mentioned 10 year old sex offenders)

Conclusion 5 : women are already overly sexualised in the media, which is creating its own sets of problems, why do you feel it i ok for children to be sexualised. From your arguments, it seems that you are in favour of granting all sexual rights to everyone regardless of age. But it has been medically (I won't even go into the psychological angles right now) proven that children's bodies are too under-developed to handle sex and its possible after effects.

In your favor, I have seen some cases that agree with your hysteria hypothesis. I have seen some sexual offender cases registered in the US which are completely bizarre. Like the 5 year old in the US who was accused by his adult teacher of sexual assault for reaching out for a hug when he had fallen down and hurt himself.

In the UK, child care professionals aren't allowed to help 2-3 year olds visit the bathroom and hence you have these kids wearing diapers till way longer than they should be

But I think your study deals more with the "Western World" and its scenarios, rather than the south Asian scenario.

Jason, if you do come back to see the response to your comment, please drop a line.

#11
Anup
March 27, 2008
12:28 AM

Kim, This is an awesome post, and even more interesting and knowledgeable comments. However, looking at yours and Jason's arguments, I start to wonder how different this is from adults imposing their thoughts and judgments of the world on children? How about religion? How about culture - in a sense of respecting elders maybe? How about the push for any child to be a doctor or an engineer? - Wouldn't your arguments of how adults are enforcing themselves on their children in terms of trying to live their dreams through their children apply in those cases too? I guess I'm trying to ask you - how is this that different from regular parenting?

#12
Kim
URL
March 27, 2008
07:13 AM

Anup, IMHO - regular parenting should be geared to developing children into mature, responsible adults.

Giving children the tools to cope in the world. Not parents trying to thrust their own thwarted dreams upon their kids.

And yes, my arguments extend to the cases you mention. :)

#13
Jason Wright
March 31, 2008
03:58 AM

Thanks for the responses to my responses. I'll try to address most of them.

Temporal, in response to your comment in #7, I suppose if you wanted to trace the advent of laws baring children for any sort of activity you could. That's not exactly my project, though I will surmise that as the legal age for anything increases you can find a correlating restriction on children's sexual freedoms--or, rather, how punitive society has become towards children who choose to be sexual. If this were not the case children would not be listed on sex offender registries--but as we can see it is becoming common practice to list children on these registries. (This is very much a phenomenon explained, analyzed, and predicted by the social theorist Michel Foucault, particularly in his book "Discipline and Punishment: The Birth of the Prison.") I guess in final response I'll simply state your comment hidden within your rhetorical question: 'If children are given sexual liberties, next they'll want all sorts of freedoms.' The very trajectory of such of such thinking helps reveal how we view children as property. I suppose you could have also asked, 'What's wrong with using children as property in the first place?'

Kim, in response to your comment in #10. No, I did not mean for you to conclude that I thought you were disinclined to academic discourse. But let me further say that those most blinded to their inherited biases ARE academics. Try telling a behavioral psychologist that they are as much a product of the language they use than are their subjects. As for my "jargon," I'll hope you'll bear with me; the other alternative is to simply close the books, fall into the trap of anti-intellectualism, and agree with everything that appears on cable news. I guess you can best describe my specialty as a scientist of language, so I rely on various types of jargon, or discourse, to try and understand what is going on. And make no doubt about it, how we choose to speak about children is very much a political practice.

In your response to my conclusion 3, thank you for clarifying how children are viewed in the context of South Asia. However, your initial post was not from an Eastern POV, but seemed to me very, very Western in what it was saying and how it was being said. As long as this conversation is written in English, we simply cannot escape our Western biases. It would be better to be honest with ourselves about the matrix in which we live, instead of pretending otherwise.

In response to your assessment of my conclusion 4, I think you've misread me. I do NOT define human as "adult," rather that is the very definition I attempt to overturn in the rhetoric used to speak of children. "Human" I believe is much, much, much broader than you are thinking, and has to do more with a respect for the rights of children (the rights of anyone). Indeed, the definition of human is more of an action than it is a noun. My definition of "Human" comes from classical philosophy, particularly Plato (For example, "The Phaedrus" and "The Symposium" two dialogues between students and teachers about beauty and ethic of men having sex with boys, and what that has to do with love.) When I say human, you may also consider the profound respect Gandhi submitted towards his fellow man, or the philosophy of the Jesus figure, which is the respect of other human beings to be loved, and to love in return. Indeed, I use the word "love" because love, to my mind, to philosophy, and to religion at least, is the 'sine qua non' of humanity. And any act that disrespects the right of anyone, child or adult, to consent to love is an act against love and therefore evil. Therefore, the laws in countries that forbid children from mutual, consensual sex, an action of love, are counter to the work of love and therefore evil, no matter how socially accepted they are, no matter how far they have spawned across the social landscape, these laws are egregious.

Kim, you say, "I honestly believe the humanistic rights of children to be children overrides the rights of children to be human (human - as defined by you in your study seems to be equated with adult)." Again, human is not equated with adult in my study--a contextual misreading on your part; however, I admit I should have spent more time with definitions; let us consider that water under the bridge, the error has been corrected.

BUT, if you are saying that you believe children aught to be "children" (meaning forbidden from sexual rights, meaning children ought to be "Children" as defined by legal cases that have systematically robbed children of all rights under the auspice of "Innocence"), then I would take issue with that, as you would simply be retreating into the rhetoric of dominance that is now used in most (Western?) cultures, and you are breaking the consent of Love (defined above) which is the sine qua non of humanity. By this I mean you would be forbidding a willful act of love, which is against all that is human. However, in terms of my original post, I find the statement "...the humanistic rights of children to be children overrides..." to equate exactly with a rhetoric of power and control imposing on children the violent vocabulary of "Innocents." If one's understanding of children is expressed in these terms, then it is a colonial act and children are the human beings being colonized. Remember, as was expressed in the post above, children HAVE NO RIGHTS, except to be children--which is a colonizing statement that means children have no rights except those rights you give them, which means they have no rights at all.

To see exactly what I'm getting at, simply replace children with any aforementioned group that has also been violently oppressed. Blacks, for example. Or women, or Jews, or homosexuals.... Suddenly the violence of the RHETORIC OF INNOCENCE (pardon my emphasis) becomes frighteningly clear. This is not, Kim, as you say, "stretching it way too far." What most likely is to you is an encounter with a reality beyond the rhetorical fiction that has been built up around children in our (Western?) culture. What you term as "stretching it" is actually an attempt at the radical reclamation of human rights of children.

Case in point, when you start to compare running a business to sexuality, you know you are living in a world of highly constructed rhetoric. Indeed, you are exemplifying exactly how oppressed children are in the absurdist tradition. Imagine a theater of the absurd: "Why, if you give Blacks the right to vote, next they'll be wanting to have sex with our women!" ~ "Why, if you give a child the right to consent to sex, next they'll want to run the corner grocery store!" (On a side note, I believe children should be allowed to vote, when they want to. And I'm quite positive they would vote for their own liberties very quickly, as any sane person would.)

Finally, you state: "From your arguments, it seems that you are in favor of granting all sexual rights to everyone regardless of age." My problem with this statement of yours is that it not only reinforces the violent rhetoric of Victim and Innocent that is used to control children, but it also relies on that rhetoric as a source of fundamental truth. My argument is that what we think are concepts of fundamental truth are, in reality, not truth at all; instead, these "fundamentals" can be and have been bigoted, racist, and, in regards to children they are violently ageist and have caused untold damage.

In conclusion to this response I will simply say that no one has the right to deny the fundamental human rights of anyone, for any reason, be that color, religion, or age. The right to sexually consent, to sexually love, is a basic right of every living human; it is not exterior to the body; it is the body, and the body is the mind, and the body is human, and humanity is free.





#14
temporal
URL
March 31, 2008
05:59 AM

you skipped #8 Jason;)

In conclusion to this response I will simply say that no one has the right to deny the fundamental human rights of anyone, for any reason, be that color, religion, or age. The right to sexually consent, to sexually love, is a basic right of every living human; it is not exterior to the body; it is the body, and the body is the mind, and the body is human, and humanity is free.


we are born free

but we do trade some of that freedom to live in a given society

the freedom you ascribe/envision pertains to animals in the wild

anyways, thanks for your response

#15
Jason Wright
March 31, 2008
11:59 AM

Temp,

You are wrong on that account. We do not "trade" basic human rights to live in a society; those human rights are taken violently from us by that society. And that is exactly what is happening to children now.

Best,

JW

#16
temporal
URL
March 31, 2008
12:45 PM

thank you jason:)

You are wrong on that account. We do not "trade" basic human rights to live in a society; those human rights are taken violently from us by that society. And that is exactly what is happening to children now.

we obviously live on different planets

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