An emerging Pakistani fashion designer has attempted to highlight the issue of child labor in her latest photo shoot, but critics say the shoot is 'inappropriate' and has 'racial and colonial' nuances.
Aamna Aqeel, an emerging Pakistani fashion designer, has recently come under fire - both domestically and internationally - over her photo shoot titled "Be My Slave" for her new line of clothing. The shoot, which experts say carry colonial overtones, features a dark-skinned boy shown as a salve to a white female model.
The photos appeared in the local fashion magazine Diva earlier this month. Aqeel also posted the pictures on her official Facebook page.
Rights activists and some cultural experts have criticized Aqeel for being a racist and glorifying slavery, and also for fighting child labor with child labor.
"The use of a dark skinned child in a shoot is certainly racist," Karachi-based journalist Salima Feerasta wrote in a newspaper article. Aqeel refutes the criticism by saying that her shoot is misunderstood. She told DW that the pictures were actually aimed at highlighting the issue of domestic child labor. "The objective of the shoot was to initiate a dialogue on this social issue and to discourage rich and powerful people from using children as domestic workers," Aqeel explained.
She did, however, offer an apology to those who thought the shoot was demeaning the child. She told DW she could not think of doing such a thing because she had been personally involved in providing free education, healthcare and counseling to street children through her organization called The Garage School.
Critics, however, accuse Aqeel of using the child labor theme to gain publicity.
Child labor is rampant in Pakistan, where around forty percent of people live below the poverty line. It is common for middle-class and affluent Pakistani families to hire young kids to do the household chores.
What started as a seemingly harmless campaign for clothing has now become a national debate on whether fashion designers should use children to highlight social problems.
Amina Haider Isani, another fashion journalist in Karachi, believes Aqeel's shoot was not powerful enough to highlight the issue of child labor. She said the shoot was "dull and aesthetically weak" and that it was understandable why it conveyed the wrong message.
Isani also criticized the idea of using fashion as a medium to highlight social issues.
Karachi-based fashion journalist Mohsin Sayeed believes there is nothing wrong with Aqeel's photos.
Sayeed is of the view that Aqeel highlighted a very important issue.
"In big Pakistani cities like Lahore and Karachi, affluent ladies are often seen with child servants carrying their bags. Isn't that disgusting?” Sayeed asked, adding that fashion didn't have to be politically correct; it always pushed the boundaries.