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Photographing Children without Consent of a Parent

RJ _ , Jun 23, 2003; 01:09 p.m.

There have been a couple of threads recently that have touched on the question of the propriety or legality of photographing children without the consent of a parent.

Personally, I haven't run into this situation often, but when I have I find that my practice "depends".

A few months ago, while in the middle east, I took some photographs of children. I didn't ask them for permission and their parents were not around. When the kids noticed me photographing them, they started to ham for the camera.

More recently, I was in my local park. There was a woman with her son, maybe four or five years old. The son was having a tough, but determined, time trying to drag his sled through fairly deep snow. It was an amusing sight. I took a couple of photos of him, but asked his mother first. I also sent her copies.

The author of a current thread that touches on this subject, titled Legality in Toronto, says that he was questioned by police while taking photographs of children playing in a public fountain. This happened at a time when Toronto was coming to grips with the brutal slaying of a ten year old girl. On Friday, a respectable 35 year old software developer was arrested as a suspect.

In another thread, a man expressed annoyance that he could not photograph his son at an ice hockey tournament in the UK because it was impossible to get the consent of all of the parents whose children were involved in the tournament.

Some time ago, a photo.net participant uploaded a series of photos that she took on a bus of two boys, maybe nine or ten years old, on their way to school. It is apparent from the images that the boys were aware of the fact that they were being photographed, and that they were not very pleased. The person who uploaded these photos thought that they were amusing. I found them objectionable.

What do others think of this issue?


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Ivar Wind Skovgaard , Jun 23, 2003; 01:26 p.m.

As far as I know, the legal difference between children and adults is that children can not enter into a legal agreement without a parent's consent (there are other differences, average size for one, but that's beside the point).

In public places there is usually no need of an agreement to photograph people, and this of course covers children as well.

How people will react to it is a different matter, but I believe that's the way it is legally in most places, and in addition I believe that's the way it should be.

Regarding wether a particular photo of someone who doesn't appear to like being photographed should be made or not, that's a different matter and applies to adults just as much as to children.

Jerry Litynski , Jun 23, 2003; 01:37 p.m.

It is all a matter of common sense. If you are in a public place and happen to include a kid or two in a shot, there is not much 'wrong' in the images. But if, for example, you tend to 'follow' about a young lady or boy, and his/her parent happens to like weight-lifiting and bouncing camera equipment off the pavement -- you could have a problem.

School sports photography in the States is fairly common -- some areas require you to 'register' with the school board and get permission to be on the school property. Selling images to parents is fairly easy, and you have to respect that some folks do not want action shots of their kids (i.e., you can't be over bearing in selling.)

RJ _ , Jun 23, 2003; 01:41 p.m.

Remy, the question you ask about the Middle East situation is a good one, and it is why I mentioned it. I'm not sure that I have a good answer. I can tell you that there were no adults around, that initially the kids did not know that they were being photographed and that when they did notice, they did a major league ham-for-the camera routine. Does any of this matter? I'm not sure.

Let me tell you about a couple of other instances from that trip. I took some photos of a teenager who was renting out his camel for rides. I also took a photo in old Jerusalem of a youth of perhaps eleven or twelve on a donkey. As he saw me raise my camera, he turned the donkey so that it was sideways to me and raised his arm to cover the side of his face. Later, speaking to local friends, I was given two interpretations. One was that he objected to being photographed on religious grounds. The other was that he wanted to be paid. Later, in Amman, I had a discussion with some Jordanian friends about the issue of photographing muslims. I got a lot of advice, most of it of the "depends" variety.

I might also mention that I recently read that the UK, and perhaps some other jurisdictions, have enacted, as part of child protection legislation, a prohibition against publishing a photograph containing the image of a child without the consent of a parent.

German E. Vargas Y. , Jun 23, 2003; 02:14 p.m.

in Mexico...

There is a big problem with kidnappings in Mexico, I have 3 kids of my own and I usually get comments form other people like "they are so cute", etc.

They do are beautiful :) http://www.photo.net/photodb/photo?photo_id=1567465 http://www.photo.net/photodb/photo?photo_id=1567469 http://www.photo.net/photodb/photo?photo_id=1567481 http://www.photo.net/photodb/photo?photo_id=1567483 http://www.photo.net/photodb/photo?photo_id=1567487

There is no local regulation around the matter, but believe me if someone asks me if it is Ok to take pics of my kids I would say absolutely NOT!!! and if I get anyone doing it I would beat the crap out if him (local police serves for nothing) and find out later. My advice is to be very careful specially if outside the States you do not know exactly how are things in other places.

I have taken like 1500 pics of my 4 year old daughter, as you might guess she sees a camera and she is more than pleased to pose or act naturally around it, she is used to it, Her attitude might tell one thing but his paranoid father would take it very personally. I think you took a big chance in the Middle East.

csab' józsa , Jun 23, 2003; 02:34 p.m.

I think it's sad.

[First of all, I'm not a father, so I might be completely wrong.But.]

"When the kids noticed me photographing them, they started to ham for the camera." This IS important, indeed!
Just yesterday happened that we've been in a train, and a ~3-4 y old boy was running around on the corridor, between the compartments. When he noticed us watching him and laughing, he started to run back periodically to our compartment and saying "boo" or stg like that.

This is how I remember also ourselves, being schoolkids(not *too* long time ago...:o) ). We've been trying hard to look "cool" when we knew that we are watched/photographed. That's how kids are nowadays too, I think. Unlike parents and serious policemen, the kids love to show off for anybody who's watching them, and a camera makes it even more fun!

Of course, parents were protective 20 years ago as well...just not this way, not soooo damn seriously. They did not see so many people photographing around, they did not have so much time watching their kids, they did not follow every ugly story on the news about kids being harrassed by unknown misterious people, and especially, they did not think (or were not told )of the "dangers" of a photo taken of their kid. This is why i say it's sad. The kids did not change, neither the criminals; THE PARENTS DID, and I don't think it's for their advantage.

Why would candid children photography rise the statistics of child abuse?
Why would a kid more likely being slaughtered by a sick guy waste of society if the kid's photo is on the photo.net?
If I take a photo of that kid in the train, without asking his parents for permission, I still don't know where he lives, when he is home alone, and where is the key for the back door! Photographs don't usually record these details!
I just can't understand where the causality comes from.

Of course, the issue related to the religion/local belief is something different. That belongs to the ethics of photographing anything/anybody in general, on a trip to a different culture.

grtz, csab'.

csab' józsa , Jun 23, 2003; 02:39 p.m.

To Mr. German E. Vargas Y.

With all the respect...what is the difference between YOU taking photos of your kids and posting HERE on the Internet, and ME, going there as a stranger and asking for permission to take a photo of your (cute) kids???

David H. Hartman , Jun 23, 2003; 03:07 p.m.

What we need is more B-Grade Horror Movies and less Network News Shows selling fear.

Joe Stephenson , Jun 23, 2003; 03:08 p.m.


If I am understanding your post, you would commit an assault on any stranger that you saw taking a photograph of one of your children? I’m not very knowledgeable of Mexican law, but isn’t that a serious felony? And by your own statement, it is not against the law of your country to photograph children. You then would you expect the police to take action. It seems unjustified to critize them for not acting as your personal bullies to enforce your whims. Like it or not, you are placing yourself in a very false position. While the police might not be there when you want them, they might be there after you committed your felonious assault. And then, there are those nasty tort lawyers.

You have a right and duty to protect your children. But you are not above the law, and you are not entitled to go about assaulting innocent strangers who are doing nothing harmful or illegal. If you are so protective of your children, what kind of model would you be setting for them by beating up on strangers? Shame on you. I hope your rhetoric is more intense than your actions.

As to the original post, no, I do not photograph children accept with the consent of their parents or guardian/s, unless they appear incidentally in a photograph taken of a general scene, for example, a peace rally. My other job (developmental psychologist) involves working with preschool children. Over the 30+ years of working with young children I have grown increasingly cautious. I will absolutely not allow myself to be with a child unless one of his or her parents is present. Public mores have changed greatly over that period, and it’s well to understand them. I suspect none of us wishes to give offense, far less running into a hot head who might launch an assault on our person or our equipment.


Joe Stephenson

Hal Bissinger , Jun 23, 2003; 05:54 p.m.

Here in the States, I don't think it's so much the actual act of photographing the kids but who or what the parents imagine you are for doing it.

The difference between today and yesterday is of course the internet. There are lots of people who "get their jollies" by going out with their digital camera and posting their efforts all over the web. No parent wants their kids picture on websites all over the net even if they can't be identified or located. It's just too easy and prevalent these days so how can a parent tell what you are up to when they see you pointing a camera their way? And, even if you are a legitimate photographer, if you put photographs up on your own site it's very likely that they will wind up elsewhere.

In short, I think the web itself is as much to blame for the current paranoia as anything else. Add to that Bush, Ashcroft & Company telling us that there is a pervert under every bed, that we need to bring morality back while this is the most sexually repressed country in the free world and you can begin to see the problem.

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