Walking back to her car from the beach one morning, Australian/ Lebanese expat Taghred Chandab saw something that set her maternal alarm bells ringing.
“I noticed a couple of young men taking photos of this beautiful little blonde boy, who was just sitting there with his nanny,” says Dubai-based marketing director Taghred. “I kind of got a bit suspicious and I thought to myself – yeah, something’s just not right here.”
Doubling back, Taghred approached the child’s nanny to ask whether she knew these young men who had just been photographing the child in her care. “She said, ‘no’, she didn’t know them. So I said; ‘You gave these boys permission to take photos of this child? Do you know how they’re going to use these photos? Do you know where these images are going to go?’ She just looked at me stunned.”
As a mother of four children aged 5 to 15 herself, the incident shook Taghred so much that she immediately posted a video on her social media to try to raise awareness of the danger of allowing strangers to photograph children, and of the importance of ensuring that your child's carers are educated and empowered enough to protect them from such situations when out in public.
“I have a message for you mums and dads out there who leave kids in your nanny’s care,” says Taghred. “You need to set ground rules and guidelines, and please instruct them not to let these children be photographed by strangers.”
UAE mums have responded to this video warning with alarm, with many admitting they have never discussed such a potential incident with their child’s caregiver, and others not even realising the potential danger in allowing people to take photographs of their child.
“First and foremost, why is a stranger asking to take pictures of a child, and where will these images be used?” Taghred told Gulf News. “There are global paeodophile rings using and sharing images of children online. While this incident may have been innocent (I don't know), next time it might not be.”
But Taghred has other concerns also; “Perhaps this nanny and child are being watched or have been watched. There are horrific stories from all over the world of children being kidnapped from playgrounds, in plain sight, and sold in major child trafficking rings. You just can't take any risks when it comes to where these images end up or who is watching your child. Be vigilant.”
On top of the incident itself was the fact that the child's carer had actually permitted the men to take the photo, presumably unaware of the potential danger. “I was genuinely alarmed that in 2021 so many nannies remain untrained and uneducated about some of the responsibilities they have when a child is in their care at home and in public places,” she says. “It's easy to underestimate the huge responsibility we often place on nannies, and training can empower them.”
How UAE parents are reacting
Taghred received a huge response to her warning video, which she says did not surprise her at all. “Many mums came forward, in my direct messages, telling me of instances where they caught people taking pics of their children from a distance. Others told me they had seen many videos on the social media site TikTok with nannies and kids. I wonder if their parents are aware?”
“I thought people taking photos of my kids was harmless fun”
Rachael Alsalahat is a UAE-based American expat stay-at-home mum of 4-year-old twins, who says that seeing the video made her realise the potential dark side of what she had always perceived to be innocent curiosity. “Being a fairly new mother and moving away from my home to a place that’s a melting pot of cultures and different nationalities, you never know what you will come across. And admittedly I was naïve about this. I have experienced strangers taking photos of my kids without my permission. I thought it was all just harmless fun, and I would let it happen. I did think it was a bit odd, because why would someone care to take photos of random children (cute or not)? But I have been shocked and horrified to find out what can and does happen with these photos. I’ve now started looking at every stranger that gets close to my kids in public places differently. You can never be too safe any more, so it’s better to just have your guard up.”
“There’s nothing innocent about strangers taking photos of a child”
Amber, a Canadian homeschooling mum of four kids ranging from 1-15 years of age, says she strongly believes that there is no need for any stranger to take a picture of a child under any circumstances. “If some stranger walked up to an adult and said, ‘Can I take a picture with you?’ I’m sure they wouldn’t think that that was OK. Why should we think that the intentions are pure when asking to take a picture of a child because they are ‘cute’? I think parents in these types of situations should always be cautious and never feel shy to say, ‘no’. Growing up we were taught don’t take candy from strangers and we all understand that concept very well. I would easily say the same about pictures: don’t let strangers take pictures of your child.”
“It happened to us and security found the camera was full of kids' pictures”
British expat mum of two (7 and 10) and founder of The Big Beauty Scoop Facebook group Vicki Ashlin says that Taghred’s story reminds her of a disturbing incident that happened to her family. “My kids were playing in the pool at a hotel in the middle of the summer. I noticed a man who was taking photos behind me, and I stepped aside and asked the kids to come over so he could get a more clear view of the pool, which I assumed he must be photographing. But then the man stopped taking pictures, only to start again when the children went back into the pool. I mentioned it to security, who checked the man’s camera and found it full of nothing but children’s photos – my kids’ and many others’. It made me feel sick as to why he would want pictures of them and why he was being so sneaky about it. I’m just glad security made him delete all of the photos. My children have always been in my care but I’m pregnant and we now have a nanny and it’s something I will talk to her about so she’s clear it is not OK to let others take photos.”
“It makes me feel like I shouldn’t take my children out”
Jess Hambleton is a UK expat stay-at-home mum of a three year old and 15-month-old. “Multiple times I have experienced strangers coming up to me and photographing my kids or patting their heads and so. Every time it makes me think, who would take pictures of children they don’t know? What are they going to do with those pictures? Why would they think it’s ok and especially without permission? It almost makes me feel like I shouldn’t take the children out and just keep them protected at home, but at the same time, I don’t want to limit myself exploring or restrict my children from enjoying their childhood. Parents should definitely do more to protect their children in these instances. Parents need to tell nannies and make them aware about the dangers of people taking pictures of children. Imagine being online and seeing a picture of child that you didn’t authorise? I’d be sick to my stomach.”
“When it comes to strangers taking photos of your children or young people, there are a few things every parent should take into consideration and then share with anyone they charge with the welfare and safety of their children.
“There are two main points for parents to focus us on when it comes to images of their children in the digital age. These are 1) their safety and 2) their digital tattoo.
THE INTERNET IS NOT A SAFE PLACE
“When it comes to the safety aspect, we have to cover off some unsavoury and uncomfortable truths. The internet is most certainly not a ‘safe’ place. It’s actually a tool, and just like most other tools that are ubiquitously available, there are those who will use the tool for what it was designed for, and those who won't.
In allowing a stranger to take a picture of your child, you don’t know where that image may end up. Those who use the internet to traffic children, to support paedophilia, to extort and shame children into actions they are not comfortable with, don’t walk around with identifiers that would allow you to steer clear of them.
This may sound somewhat alarmist, but there are far too many examples of children and young people enduring these scenarios that we have to wake up to the fact that it’s happening. And in some cases happening right in front of us.
There are examples of mums and dads who have found pictures of their baby on social media as the profile picture of a stranger, who is pretending that the baby is their own. There is a whole online community that does this, known as #BabyRP. While the parents are the ones who originally posted the picture on social media, the reality is that you just don’t know where that picture may end up once you put it out there.
Something else to be aware of as parents; are you what we call a ‘Paparazzi Parent’, one who is involved in 'sharenting', whereby every single picture of your little angels is posted online? Just be aware that as soon as you post that picture in the online space, you lose control of it, and whether you want to acknowledge it or not, the internet is a public domain and you don’t know where that picture may end up, or who will view it.
YOUR CHILD’S DIGITAL TATTOO
There is some research to suggest that by the time a child reaches 5 years old, there will be up to 1,500 images of them online. None of which they will have posted. These images, whether they like or not form a part of what we call a 'digital tattoo'.
This tattoo is how we will be judged moving forwards, because this is what people will base their opinion of them on.
For some teens, who have abstained from the online space until 13 years old, are quite surprised when they get online and discover just how much content/many images of them are already out there. Those cute images of your child are indeed cute, but they might not be viewed that way by your now teenager.
To the point where we already have cases of young people suing their parents for the pictures they have posted online. An 18-year-old in Austria successfully did this, and a 16-year-old in Rome went to court to get his mother to take down pictures she had posted of him without his permission.
Of course I’m not saying this is going to happen to everyone, but it’s happening and if you are aware of how the digital world works and what’s going on, you can do your utmost to prevent these scenarios unfolding for you and your family.
INNOCENT? YOU DECIDE
One final thing to be consciously aware of is that we live in a multicultural society here, where for some, seeing a blonde haired, or a blue- or green-eyed baby/toddler/young person out and about may just be something they have never seen before or are curious about. So of course there is an interest. We are all intrigued by things we rarely see. And in many cases it is a compliment that they want to take a picture as it tends to be beautiful things we want to capture in a photo. But we all need to be mindful that there is always a potential for danger due to the connectivity of the smartphones that people tend to take these pictures on.
It’s always a personal choice, but my opinion is that no one needs a picture of my children except for me and my immediate family and you are always in a position to politely decline the request. An informed parent is an effective parent.
Empowering and equipping your nanny
You might not allow a stranger to take a photo of your child, but would your nanny know not to allow it? What might seem obvious to you may not always be the case for your childcarer, and it’s important to set clear guidelines, says Angelica Robinson, CEO and founder of childcare and babysitting company CloudNine Kids, which runs nanny-training courses. “I have always made it very clear that it is not OK for nannies to allow strangers to take photos of children in their care and to be cautious about strangers approaching or talking to them,” says Angelica. “Their safety and protection is number one priority. Nannies must also not take photos or selfies with the kids (without permission) and share them across their social media, as this is also another way for predators to get access.”
It’s impossible to oversee every potential incident before it occurs but encouraging your nanny to use her initiative and protective nature is crucial, adds Angelica. “This is a conversation to have during the interview or as a reminder at any time and such examples can be mentioned. It’s important to tell your nanny why you don’t want photos or videos taken of your children, as possibly she doesn’t realise what they can be used for. Other such guidelines can be around correct supervision while at the playground and your nanny must not allow another person or nanny to take care of your children while they are doing something else.”
While you may cover a lot of ground at the beginning, it’s necessary to give reminders, Angelica continues. “Have an informal chat with your nanny about it, for example when she picked up the kids from school or at the park, did she ever notice anything strange or anyone taking pictures? In case she sees anything like that, she should take the kids away and let you know because you heard there are some people going around taking inappropriate photos without permission.
“Although it’s terribly disturbing to think about, it’s important not to frighten your children or nanny about the issue. You can also talk to your children if they are old enough to explain to them that they shouldn’t allow strangers to take photos of them and to walk away and inform their nanny and you immediately.”
Key guidelines to set your child’s carer
On top of the rules around photography, Angelica Robinson from CloudNine Kids shares some other guidelines that parents may want to cover with the person they entrust to care for their child when they are not around:
- Informing the parent as soon as an accident or incident occurs and not waiting for them to come home
- Not letting maintenance personnel or workers into the home without prior instructions from the parents
- Always making sure their phone is charged and has internet access/credit so the parent can contact them or in case of an emergency
- Thoughts around discipline and food. It’s really important to be on the same page about raising children with a healthy appetite and good manners. It’s very difficult for your nanny to change her views down the line if she doesn’t agree with your discipline techniques or philosophy towards parenting, as well as healthy eating habits which she needs to be able to promote without hesitation or disagreement
- Use of mobile phones and socialising with other nannies can be a distraction towards proper supervision when your nanny takes your children outside, make sure your nanny agrees with you and understands the importance of this
These laws include:
1. Federal Penal Code – Federal Law No. 3 of 1987
2. Federal Copyright Law – Federal Law No. 7 of 2002
3. Federal Cybercrimes Law – Federal Law No. 5 of 2012
These laws impose strict penalties on individuals who violate a person’s privacy, which includes up to Dh500,000 in fines for taking a person’s photograph without permission.
Hari Wadhwana, Associate, OGH Legal, spoke about how these laws are applied across the board, and would be applied in the case of children as well. He stressed on the fact that no one can take a child’s photograph without express permission from the parent, ideally in a written format.
According to Wadhwana, there are two child specific laws, which are relevant to the discussion on children’s photographs.
“Article 5 of the Federal Law No. 3 of 2016, or the Federal Child Rights Law, specifically recognises children's privacy and mandates that the privacy would be in line with the guardian's consent,” Wadhwana said.
“The law states that consent can be given by the guardian and this guardian is defined under the law as a person having legal liability. This only includes parents and may not include nannies who are mere caretakers and cannot take decisions for the child in the parent's stead. It is advisable that consent is issued by the parents and not the nanny. Written consent - even if over email - is highly recommended over a verbal consent,” Wadhwana said.
- Huda Tabrez