There's attention-grabbing tactics, and then there's a video where a young mother pleads with people to buy her daughter.
The video above, posted on Facebook last Thursday, has been viewed by more than 200,000 people. Judging by the comments, many viewers found it difficult to watch all the way through to the end, where it's revealed that the mom and daughter are actresses and that the video is a charity appeal.
That charity, Hagar Singapore, has as its mission to "restore women and children who suffer extreme human rights abuse to life in all its fullness". The video is part of a larger pro-bono campaign by Singapore independent agency Blak Labs and timed for International Women's Day.
In addition to the video, the campaign includes four print ads (see below), which are based on true stories and are running in media sponsored by SPH and Expat Living Magazine.
The importance of the cause goes without saying, and the charity certainly seems to do great work. We urge you to read through the print ads for some education about the issue.
One can certainly argue that when the harm to innocents is so unspeakable, extraordinary provocation is warranted. Nevertheless, we have some reservations about the video.
While some Campaign staffers who viewed it without being tipped off found it effective and even "too real", others knew it was "a setup" from the first moment. The latter group felt that the tactic was tacky, and that it was a shame to take a real issue and make it look fake. Still others reacted negatively to the trick, and felt a straightforward drama with a voiceover would have been better.
All were in agreement that the video took too long and was too repetitive while it was making its way to the reveal—a critique borne out by the Facebook comments.
Next, at least some of us believe that asking a child actor to appear in a scene like this is potentially problematic in and of itself, especially when it's stated that she'll grow up to be sexy. Different people will feel differently about this, and it depends partly on how it was handled on the set. We've seen other examples where we ultimately felt the ends justified the means (see "'Nursery crimes': One ECD's quest to stop child sexual abuse in Malaysia").
Finally, human traffickers harvest their victims in many ways (again, see the print ads below). And in most situations, men are the perpetrators and women the victims. While we don't doubt that desperate mothers have to resort to desperate measures in some cases, choosing this particular scenario to lead a campaign seems questionable, especially when the campaign is tied to International Women's Day. We fear some people could walk away with the impression that women selling their daughters is a primary concern, when surely it's not.
We have reached out to the agency to discuss the above thoughts and will update accordingly.
Update, 7 March
How was the shoot handled on set, in terms of the girl? Some among our staff felt that even bringing a child into a scene like that is problematic.
The girl is a child talent. Her real mother and sister were present on set. We spoke to her during and after the shoot. She's a bright spark, very articulate and understood why the actress said all those things on screen. We explained to her the circumstances in other countries where children are sold. She understood and said her mother had explained it to her too.
Was the video based on a real situation or real situations that the client has heard about? Was there any concern that people might think you’re "blaming the woman” when in reality far more human trafficking is men victimizing women?
It is not based on a specific case. But the reality is that trafficking due to family arrangements (e.g. sold) is sadly, one of the common ways where people are trafficked, particularly children. Most parents don't do it willingly; they are either driven to desperation because of poverty or tricked by false offers, thinking it will give the children a better life.
Over 45 million are enslaved around the world. Fifty-one percent are women and 20 percent girls. It’s difficult to convey all the complex issues behind human trafficking (such as sexual exploitation, forced labour, domestic servitude, etc.) through one video. Hence, they are dealt with in the print ads and also on Hagar’s website.