PROTEST MARCHES: SHOULD CHILDREN ACCOMPANY THEIR PARENTS?

Protest March (Afghanistan 2009)  oil on wood by Claude

Should children accompany their parents on protest marches?

I guess the answer would be: "it depends". Yes, on whether there is any danger or not. That seems fairly obvious. Yesterday, on the small island of Lampedusa, the local population (5,000) beset by waves of immigrants that are now more numerous than they are (over 6,000), decided to protest. They stormed public buildings and blocked the road to the port. Women and children joined the protesters. One can understand them: so far the Rome government has done precious little, the local structures for welcoming immigrants have collapsed long ago, and there are reports that over a thousand immigrants are going hungry because there's not enough food for them on the island! Today, Berlusconi is reportedly taking a trip to Lampedusa to survey the disaster in person. He really could have done that a little sooner, and more importantly, not wait yet another day (till tomorrow, for the Council of Ministers) to take a decision and start solving the problem.

Yet in spite of the mess in Lampedusa, security conditions were not really (or not yet) an issue. So it made sense for women and children to join in with their protesting husbands, brothers and fathers.

It would seem equally logical and a no-brainer to argue that children should not be involved if there are risks of violence. Yet, people in Egypt and Tunisia - the "early Arab Spring" countries - took that risk and nothing happened. It seemed that no child got hurt. Now that we are in a "late Arab Spring", violence has increased, and as you may have probably noticed, there are no children involved in the current demonstrations in Syria or Yemen - at least, none that I noticed. Bahrein seemed to have been an in-between case: there were children at first, particularly when people camped out on Pearl Square through the night, but none in the last days of protest, since the army kicked in - including troops from Saudi Arabia . And of course I'm not mentioning Libya here, that's a case apart.

So, in general, parents are responsible and concerned about their children's safety. But...There's always a but! Is it fair to involve children in an adult political issues, including hot ones like revolutions and regime changes?

I am not so sure. The spectacle of children screaming slogans along with their fathers disturbs me. What do they know or understand about this? Aren't the parents turning them into instruments of their protests? To protest is a quintessentially adult thing to do. You have to understand the ins and outs of a problem, evaluate the solution and make a decision which could have consequences - a decision that could change the life of your family. How can you involve your children in this? Is it fair to them?

All those questions were at the back of my mind when I painted the protest march (picture above). That's why I picked the purple color as a background - to me purple is a complex color and vaguely menacing. I also zeroed in on the child riding his father's shoulders and made sure the child was screaming harder than his father. Actually, I'm quite certain he is enjoying the ride and the importance his father is giving him.

But is that enough to justify taking children along on protest marches? What do you think?



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