Histories of Child-Saving in Africa: (Mis-)Understanding Childhood in Humanitarian Aid and Developmental Programmes, c.1935-2014

Since the 1950-60s, Africa has become a key site of humanitarian aid and developmental interventions. Children have been primary subjects of these actions, serving as universal icons of suffering across humanitarian campaigns. This project will establish an historical geneaology of ‘child-saving’ in Africa, from the first NGO child welfare clinic in 1935 in Addis Ababa to the 2014 #BringBackOurGirls campaign that spread globally from Nigeria. It will interrogate the political, cultural and emotional calculus of compassion that determines which children are adjudged befitting of concern and rescue. It asks how contemporary campaigns are shaped by legacies of (post-)colonial child-saving efforts, and by Western-originated, now globalized, notions of ‘childhood’ and racialized conceptions of ‘Africa’. It traces histories of Sustainable Development Goals custodian indicators on children. Such historical approaches will strengthen strategic thinking and effective practice within child-focused NGOs, delivering impact through helping organizations to better understand how context and temporality affect campaigning and how mis-readings of socio-political and cultural norms across Africa can inhibit effective interventions.

This project connects Exeter & Geneva researchers with archivists and practitioners from the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (ICRC, National Red Cross, FICR, Geneva), Save the Children International (London, with archives in Birmingham), Save the Children Switzerland (Zurich), the archives of the Union Internationale de secours aux enfants (Geneva) and UNICEF (Geneva, New York) for three joint archival research sessions and academic-practitioner dialogues in Geneva, Birmingham and London culminating in a Geneva-based workshop to present pilot findings and develop future grant applications.


Dr Stacey Hynd, University of Exeter, Department of History

Dr Marie-Luce Desgrandchamps, University of Geneva, Department of History