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Child Case Study Images

Parven Akhter

This collaborative ethnographic case study involved working with children to create a scrapbook to record literacy learning events situated in a multilingual household. This work was carried out with a British Pakistani family living in Northern England. It was focused upon culturally mediated activities in which children are the primary creators of their own social world. The children: Jabeen, Anu and Mamun (10, 8 and 5 years) downloaded selected images from the internet which, from their own perspective, were relevant to their culture and literacy practices. Children then co-constructed and assembled associated image and text meanings in their scrapbook in collaboration with their parents and the researcher. The study can therefore be recognised as a collaborative ethnographic process involving family members (parents and children) and a researcher. The context for the scrapbook included Ramadan (fasting month), Eid (cultural celebration), Hajj (pilgrimage), a South Asian marriage and one young child’s favourite object (car). This was seen as cultural learning process operated in the context of specific family literacy practices.

Collaboration in the context of ethnography:

The children negotiated research themes between themselves, and with the researcher, and decided to use a scrap book to record information about their chosen themes. I used semi-structured interviews and a flip camera while the children were making their scrapbook. The eldest child said “first we should select Ramadan because this month is the fasting month.” It seems that their selection of a cultural theme is religiously important (Gregory et al., 2013) and is significant for that moment in time. To create the scrapbook they searched for images on the Internet which they thought relevant and about which they could write supporting text based on their family literacy. The term ‘family literacy’ refers to literacy practices within families (Barton & Hamilton, 1998; Kenner et al 2007; Gregory et al, 2004). Each page of the scrapbook was collaboratively created by the children to reflect South Asian Muslim culture. The siblings downloaded images from the Internet that represented their chosen cultural events and then cut out the images they wanted using scissors and then pasted each image on an appropriate page of the scrapbook. They then wrote about each cultural event and pasted their comments next to the images on the relevant page. This account covers two examples from the study: Ramadan (the holy month of the year), and the youngest child’s popular culture choice of a favorite object (car).

The image of the bag of money being tipped out (in figure 1) represents the giving of Zakat in the fasting month. There is also information about the special praying night in the fasting month. The second image of a blue sky reflects Ramadan and on the top of the image, there is written information ‘Ramadan is a special month in Islam’ and in the middle of the page the theme ‘Ramadan’ is written with some star images around it. Jabeen said, “The star is the symbol, the faith of Islam.” Anu said, “You need to see the moon in the sky before celebrating Eid”. The children discussed this information verbally with the researcher (me). I noted the children’s oral discussion, their selection of images and their corresponding written meaning, as they created home-produced literacies relevant to their culture (Pahl, 2005). The images and their corresponding written meaning constructed children’s cultural knowledge and an understanding of a particular aspect of family literacy found in their home. Vygotsky’s (1978), sociocultural theory highlighted that children use knowledge from their culture to solve problems in everyday life. They interpret their everyday events in terms of their own knowledge understanding then introduce those interpretations back into their culture. Rogoff (2003) described that children participate in cultural communities where they observe and learn from their surroundings and thereby create their own interpretations of the world. Throughout the process of creating the scrapbook the two sisters (Jabeen and Anu) were using the Internet for finding information about Ramadan (fasting month) and their youngest brother (Mamun) was also participating with them by sticking that information in the scrapbook pages. Both sisters explained the information and told him where to stick the information.  Their mother was also present and mainly helped Mamun to write the name of his favorite cars ‘Porsche’ and ‘Lamborghini’ in the scrapbook. Mamun’s sister Jabeen also helped him to find the correct spelling from the Internet. It appeared that the siblings were drawing on cultural resources and were co-constructing learning between siblings and mother in the process of their social participation (Wenger, 1998).

Some of the images are shown below captured from the video screen.

Figure 1: Family Literacy (‘Ramadan is a special month in Islam’ Scrapbook

Figure 2: Family literacy (‘In the Masjid you learn and read Qur’an’ Scrapbook)

Figure 4 shows Mamun’s (5 years) favourite objects, cars (Porsche and Lamborghini). He downloaded images of the cars from the Internet for inclusion in the scrapbook. He then stuck the images in the scrapbook and wrote the names of the cars. These are difficult names and he spelt them wrong. The mother gave him a packet of colourful car shaped erasers because he likes cars. The mother said that he doesn’t like to write but these erasers might encourage him in writing.


These two examples illustrate how these children negotiated research themes with the researcher and co-produced collaborative family literacy texts. These children’s home-produced literacies can be seen as cultural learning resources. I observed that the learning process was continuously being co-constructional between the siblings and their mother. Questions may now arise such as: Are these home-produced cultural texts different from formal school texts and if so, in what ways? Can teachers use these texts as literacy resources for exploring cultural diversity?


Barton, D. and Hamilton, M. (1998) Local Literacies: Reading and Writing in One Community, London: Routledge.

Gregory, E., Long, S., and Volk, D. (2004) (eds.) Many Pathways to Literacy: Young Children Learning with Siblings, Grandparents, Peers, and Communities. New York: Routledge Falmer.

Gregory, E., Lytra, V., Choudhury, H., LLankuberan, A., Kwapong, A and Woodham,M (2013) ‘Syncretism as a creative act of mind: the narratives of children from four faith communities in London’ Journal of Early Childhood Literacy. 0(0), pp.1-26

Kenner, C., Ruby, M., Jessel, J., Gregory. E. and Arju, T (2008) ‘Intergenerational learning events around the computer: A site for linguistic and cultural exchange’ Language and Education. 22(4), pp. 298-319.

Lassiter, E. L. (2005) The Chicago Guide to Collaborative Ethnography, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago press.

Pahl, K. (2005) Children’s popular culture in the home: tracing cultural practices in texts. In: J. Marsh and E. Millard (Eds.) Popular Literacies, Childhood and Schooling.London: Routledge/Falmer pp 29-53.

Rogoff, B. (2003). The Cultural Nature of Human Development. New York: Oxford York: Oxford University Press.

Vygotsky, L. (1978) Mind in Society. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Wenger, E. (1998) Communities of Practices: Learning, Meaning, and Identity, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Emma was 14 when she met her first 'boyfriend'. He – in his 30s – bought her presents, picked her up in his car, told her he loved her.

But he soon changed. He became violent and before long was forcing her to have sex with his friends. Then, like a toy, Emma was passed on, shipped around the country and raped by countless men. "I got taken to flats. I don't know where they were and men would be brought to me," she said. "I was never given any names and I don't remember their faces."

Emma's story is one of unimaginable horror, but according to children's charity Barnardo's there are many more victims like her, and numbers are growing. "Barnardo's knows that sexual exploitation is going on in every town and city in the UK," said chief executive Ann Marie Carrie. "Child victims continue to go unidentified as tell-tale signs are overlooked from the front line of children's services to the corridors of Whitehall."

In a report out today the charity warns that domestic trafficking networks are becoming more dangerous, organised and sophisticated, targeting victims who are younger than ever.

Sophie was 13 when she met a boy who said he was 18, at her cousin's 21st birthday party. "I thought he was gorgeous, it was really exciting," she said.

At first he treated her well, but soon he started to control her, isolating her from her family. Asked if he hit her often she said: "Just when I wouldn't do something he wanted me to do" She paused, then added in a small voice: "So, yeah, often." When the police came to rescue Sophie, they told her the man was 34, and had a criminal record for child abuse. "I said they were lying," she said. "I thought I was in love, I thought it was normal."

Barnardo's recognise this "inappropriate relationship" – typically involving an older abuser with control over a child – as one of three main models of child sexual exploitation. The next level of abuse, the "boyfriend" model, sees girls groomed before being passed around friends.

In one case an Asian teen from the north-west described being dragged out of a car by her hair by her 'boyfriend' who took her to a hotel room ''to have his friends come over and do what they wanted to me'.

According to the charity, a younger man will often be used to seduce the child, and may not take part in their abuse, but pass her on to other older men. Boys and girls as young as 14, some who have been abused themselves, can also act as bait.

Other girls are recruited by boys and young men to be used for sex for a gang. "Unfortunately, in many places this is part of gang culture," said Carrie.

Of Barnardo's 22 specialist services surveyed for the report, 21 had seen evidence of the most serious and dangerous model of sexual exploitation – the trafficking of children through organised networks for sex, often with multiple men.

Tim was 14 when he was groomed by one man, but it wasn't long before he was expected to have sex with many more. "They'd give us fags, alcohol," he said. "After a while there would be three or four guys all at once. It was horrible and very scary."

Before long Tim was being taken to different houses, in different areas. He doesn't know how many men he was forced to have sex with.

Some trafficking networks hide behind legitimate taxi business or takeaways, according to the report.

Wendy, a service manager in the north-east whose full name cannot be used for safety reasons, said children described going to flats above different, related, shops, others described being picked up by taxi drivers "well aware of where they were being taken".

Use of technology

Abusers are increasingly using the internet to groom children, and mobile phone technology to entrap and ensnare.

Tim was introduced to his abuser through a friend who had met the man online, and research from the EU Kids Online project, cited in the report, suggests children meeting with internet 'friends' is not uncommon – one in 12 of the 23,000 nine to 16-year-olds they questioned had met up someone whom they had first encountered online.

Mobile phones and the internet are increasing used as tools to control children. Tim was given a pay-as-you-go mobile to keep track of him and organise his abuse. At the height of his trafficking his photograph and profile, controlled by his abusers, was posted online to attract new "customers".

Other teens are being co-erced into sending, or posing for, sexually explicit photos, which are then used to blackmail and control, said Carrie.

"The abuser then sells the images, and threaten to send the pictures to the girl's parents or school if she does not do x, y and z."

In one chilling example, the report cited a ten-year-old girl referred to the project for posting graphic, sexualised images of herself on the internet.

Younger victims

Worryingly, hers is not an isolated case. One north east Barnardo's project had recently helped another ten-year-old, a boy with a history of abuse, who had been groomed over a period of months, before being moved around and sexually abused.

In the past five years, the average age of victims has fallen from 15 to around 13, according to the report, with abusers targeting children when they are desperate to 'grow up'.

"These people target that natural development, twist it and use it to their own end," said Carrie.

Call to action

Barnardo's argues there is a desperate need for more research into child sexual exploitation. The National Working Group for Sexually Exploited Children and Young People (NWG) helped 2,894 children last year and a 2010 report from the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop), recorded a 16% increase in reports of sexual exploitation from 5,411 in 2008 to 6,291 in 2010.

To prevent the abuse of more children the government must appoint a minister with responsibility for sexually exploited children, and urgently put in place an action plan to combat the crime on a nationwide scale, insisted Carrie.

"This is not just about money. It is a call to action - we are asking everyone to do something – give goods, fundraise, donate, or just be aware of what is happening."

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