Naked Lejla Cuddling a Homeless Man

A newspaper campaign ignores the real issues affecting unwanted Czech children

The sales were going well. A photograph of the half-naked pop singer Vojtěch Dyk puckering his lips at six-month old baby Klaudia earned 95,000 crowns. A photograph of another singer-songwriter, Daniel Landa, together with his wife and little Pavlík made 45,000 and the activist and former Ministry of Human Rights spokeswoman Lejla Abbásová, with baby Anděla, 42,000 crowns.

"Andělka is the smallest baby I have ever seen," said Abbásová last week, following the photo session. "She is so tiny and quiet. I was totally fascinated by her."

Oh yes, a quiet baby -- that should be a little suspicious to the celebrities who have participated in the project, which is being organized by the daily newspaper Mladá fronta Dnes. They posed half-naked for pictures that were then auctioned off, and the profits donated to the Dětské centrum při FTN, a residential care facility for infants in Prague's Krč district. But they forgot one thing -- babies can be noisy and annoying. Kids hidden away in social care homes generally aren't, though, and that's the problem.

The idea of auctioning photographs of celebrities to sponsor a care facility in Krč might seem like a good one at first. But why should celebrities undress and be photographed half-naked holding a stranger's baby? To give the impression of intimacy between them and a child they will never see again?

Although a little condescending, the project at least has good intentions -- earning money for a troubled institution. (Due to government cuts the Krč institute had to downsize its staff last autumn.) But the question is: Do we want residential care facilities for babies at all? Aren't they a bit obsolete? Isn't there a better way to take care of unwanted children?

The half-naked celebrity charity campaign helps prolong the worst and most harmful way of caring for children in this country. No one will dispute that social care institutions produce mentally and socially deprived people. The younger the kids enter these institutions, the worse their adult lives.

The only reasonable long-term policy, in which the Czech Republic lags behind Europe, is to scrap social care institutions completely and replace them with foster parent programs. Making adoption easier is another way of helping unwanted kids.

It isn't too late to correct this ill-conceived photo series and organize a new one to support foster parenthood projects, though. I suggest presenting a true picture of the kids who come out of social care homes: the singer Vojta Dyk should be embracing a skinny drug addict and activist Lejla Abbásová could cuddle an unwashed homeless person. The slogan would be: "Thank you for the chance of spending my childhood in an institution." And hardcore nationalist Daniel Landa? For educational reasons, I propose photographing him with a well-built repeat offender from the Roma community. That way, he might think twice next time he says something as silly as, "This boy will grow up to be a boxer one day."

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