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10 photographs of children from around the world and their bedrooms

Mar 10, 2011 By Abraham

These photos are from photographer James Mollison’s book Where Children Sleep.

(via Visual News)


  1. AStev says:

    Lord come quickly.

    (Also: you seem to have left off the one of the kid who posed with a shotgun, and whose bedroom was outfitted like a hunting blind!)

    1. Pure and Simple Mom says:

      The one with the little blonde girl dressed like a pedophile’s wet dream made me cry!

      1. SF says:

        That’s because, if you look at her bedroom, there are what I assume to be pageant ribbons and tiaras. She’s being dressed like that by her mother.

    1. Meaghan says:

      I have read the book and it wasn’t as good as I hoped. The diversity in the book was lacking. There were I think twelve American children featured. Mostly they were from families that were at least middle-class if not very wealthy, and all but four came from the New York City metro area. The whole of Africa had only four children, and Europe only five, three of them from Italy and two from the UK. South America had seven, six of them from Brazil. The tiny country of Nepal had eight children featured. Of Canada, Central America, the Caribbean, the South Pacific and Australia, there were no kids featured at all.

      Also, several of the children who were featured also had lives that were quite unusual for the country they represented. For instance, the youngest geisha in all of Japan got a page, as well a ten-year-old champion sumo wrestler from Tokyo. In fact there are hardly any geisha at all in Japan anymore, and using a geisha in full regalia and a beachball-shaped sumo wrestler as two of the four Japanese kids seems to be catering to stereotypes.

      1. silvergenesis says:

        I was afraid to hear that that would be the case. I think this is an incredibly good idea, but portraying something like how children live in different places around the world needs to come with more journalistic sensitivity. There needs to be more research and more effort placed into finding appropriate subjects to detail these children’s lives so a more accurate portrait is painted of how children live in different places around the world. I guarantee you that some of your so-called ‘impoverished’ children are far happier and more satisfied with their lives than some of the so-called ‘lucky’ children.

    1. Zintra says:

      It depends what you mean by “here” I grew up in a rural Michigan town where over 70% of the population was below the poverty level, whole families would sleep in one room on the floor (including mine). Yes some of these pictures are worse but assuming everyone has the same high socio-economic level just because they live in a rich country breeds ignorance and hate. I turned 17 this year and for the first time in my life I have my own room and regular access to a computer. I’m not trying to belittle the suffering of less fortunate children, it might seem that way to many people who read this, but I’m not. I’m not trying to yell at you either, it’s just that so many people in first world countries over look the deplorable conditions that can exist just a few streets over.

      1. Andrea says:

        Looks like you’ll make it above the poverty line; you’ve got brains, poise and compassion. I wish you the best.

      2. notacountrylover says:

        well said Zintra. you have already made it. you know more at 17 than most adults know. OR recognize. wish i could help you out somehow. know someone who’s been there and done that is thinking about you and sending positive vibes your way!

      3. Markus says:

        You, dear Zintra, have already won! You apparently paid attention in school, as your response was already WAY BETTER than a lot of responses I read on the internet every day. You are articulate and considerate, evidently, so I have every reason to believe that you’ll be able to break out of that environment and be whatever and whoever you want to be. And with that, I wish you the best of luck!

  2. Photographer Leia says:

    This reminds me of a book I saw a while back of families and their homs+belongings. Basically the family hauled everything they owned into thier front yards or in front of their homes ans had their picture taken. It was quite interesting to see what people around the world kept stored in their homes. Unfortunately, I can’t for the life of me remember the book’s title.

      1. Isaac says:

        I saw that one too. It was fascinating. I’d love to see more photographic art like that. It’s fascinating to see the range of conditions around the world, especially as someone who is in the military and has had a chance to see a small glimpse of those conditions firsthand.

    1. Miriam says:

      That book was “The Material World” I saw the exhibit in Denver before they published the book. I thought of it too when I saw this.

    2. Lulu says:

      I dont remember the name either but I’ve seen the book as well – perhaps at Urban Outfitters?

      I’ve also seen a show where they went in homes and brought out everything that was not made in the US. The houses were gutted. I remember thinking, hey, at least I’d still have furniture, because nearly all ours is antique, or else made by me or my dh.Until then I didn’t realise how unusual that is.

    3. Ernie says:

      It’s a book called Material World by photographers Menzel & D’Alusio. There was a later one called Women in the Material World and a third called What People Eat. All very interesting

    4. Erica says:

      Yeah, my high school english teacher had that book! She had a lot of cool books, but that one was one of the coolest.

    5. Kay says:

      “Material World” by Peter Menzel, and “Women in the Material World”, by Faith D’Aluisio and Peter Menzel. Both wonderful books

    1. LissFirefly says:

      Who’s to say the boy with a field and mattress isn’t from the United States too? Not everyone in America has riches, food, a home, or a job.

      1. Lulu says:

        I bet that he is. – the fabrics and everything else in the photo look American. Many children live like that here. We’re very much a country based on greed and greed always breeds some who have loads of doo dads and no substance or sense of purpose, and some who have little, and who aspire to be like the other half. We need to be finding purpose and imparting the importance of that to our children. The greatet source of joy is being of service to others. That’s a scientifically proven fact, but in the US only a tiny minority realise it. That’s why we have so much and yet complain so much.

  3. Tracey says:

    Elizabeth, me too! The one that struck me was the one in China, with the pic on the wall. How sad that child has to live like that because of that scumbag dictator, Mao. Not sure if that is him on the poster(actually, that guy looks too clean,) but the gov of that country is sick. What an awful depiction of propoganda.

    1. Mike says:

      It’s no different than pictures of Jesus or the pope being on the wall. Or a picture of some roided out sports star who makes 60 million a year for that matter. The fact you aren’t even sure if it’s Mao or not underlines the fact you have no idea what you are talking about. You have no idea if that child is happy or unhappy. Many of the children I encountered while living in China for over 3 years were far happier than in the U.S. or Canada.

    2. Jack says:

      By making a statement like that, (which was clearly not well thought out) you demonstrated how the west also effectively uses propaganda. You simply threw together a few buzzwords that you heard about China, mixed in with false notions you heard about the country (for example, Mao has been dead for many years and yes that is a picture of him, their rulers are not considered dictators, but rather part of an aristocracy and there are also children living in our country in conditions that are like those of the Chinese picture or worse)

      1. Rachel says:

        I know nothing of China or their lifestyle. I may be wrong in the statement I am about to make…
        Mike, I would not in any way compare the dictator of China, or a sports star anywhere on the same bookshelf… let alone sentence, as Jesus or the Pope.
        The meaning behind those symbolic figures are very different, all are symbolic yes, maybe in China they view their dictators much differently, although I am not inclined to believe they feel towards them the same feelings as those towards a religious figure.
        I do not say this in an effort to offend, or prove wrong. I am only stating my opinon on what you said, and that again I will say is highly uneducated in the lifestyle of the Chinese.
        Although, I agree with your other statement about how can we make a judgement on their lifestyle, especially not knowing their background or day to day surroundings.

        1. A. says:

          I also lived in China for 2 years, and I agree with Mike.

          Mao is dead, and except for obligatory homage to the communist party and Mao as its leader, China’s basically a socialist/capitalist country now. Pictures of Mao might still be easy to find, but it’s harder to find his ideas in circulation.

          But I’m not even offering this as an “it’s okay now because Mao is dead” disclaimer. Consider, please, that even though Mao easily fits the description of “dictator” that we throw around in non-democratic contexts, China before Mao was actually run by an actual monarchic/dynastic system. Just like Europe was. All those kings were dictators, except with theoretical gods on their sides (whereas communist dictators didn’t have gods/God). Our history (assuming “we” are white Americans, which is a stretch) is DEFINITELY no exception to the history of dictatorship. Just because it’s more familiar to us doesn’t mean it wasn’t brutal and dictatorial.

          I mean, has anybody here ever heard of the communist Chinese enslaving an entire race of people to do their manual labor? Because I haven’t. Anybody ever heard of Chinese people gathering up millions of people they hated for no reason and killing them in death camps? No? Me neither. (Okay, that last one was Germany, but see also George Takei’s recent work on the Japanese internment camps in American during WWII. It’s shocking.)

          What’s more, we (Americans) have been propping up dictators and putting them into power around the world for decades. (Remember Saddam? The U.S. more or less installed him as head bad guy of Iraq. And gave him a bunch of weapons.)

          Chinese people might not have all chosen Mao, and there have certainly been atrocities there. (Atrocities have happened here, too, and somehow we don’t blame our government for all of them…or we do only if it’s the other party in power.) But there WERE ideals behind the cultural revolution. And they weren’t inferior to the ideals behind Western political, social or religious movements, just because they weren’t Western.

          Think about it from another perspective: Mao and the Gang of Four might have controlled China through part of the 20th century, but popes have controlled people around the WORLD for CENTURIES — millennia even. It’s been a pretty peaceful reign lately, but tell that to those living during the Crusades. And in a way, missionaries attempting to convert the natives were the harbingers of globalization, which has improved the luck of many countries (like the U.S.) and led to modern poverty for others, stratifying the world economically on a global scale — in a way that’s totally unfair and that causes philosophies like communism to start making sense.

          I’d agree that Mao and the popes/Jesus aren’t remotely similar in their impact on people throughout the world, in other words: from a gross numbers perspective, Jesus/popes’ followers have had far more negative impact on the world over the millennia.

          Of course, most followers aren’t like that. Putting up Jesus/pope pictures don’t mean that people are lauding the Crusades when they post them.

          Just like Chinese people aren’t saying “hey, didn’t you love those atrocities?” when they post up pictures of Mao.

          1. Patch says:

            History of slavery in China: en.wikipedia. org/wiki/Slavery_in_China

            Maos Cultural revolution killed 30 million: http://www.scaruffi. com/politics/dictat.html (note at the bottom , this page is banned in China)

            Chinese invasion of Tibet: http://www.freetibet. org/about/introduction-to-tibet

            This isn’t to turn a blind eye to the atrocities committed by all people in all places at some time or another, only to remark that Chinese hands aren’t clean by any stretch of the imagination, and even as their economic system reforms bringing a higher quality of life to many, their repressive political policies continue, even as the policies in western countries become more repressive in the name of “security”

          2. Shona says:

            You can’t really compare Mao and Jesus in any way. Firstly, Mao began what he did knowing full well it that the only way to achieve his goals was through bloodshed. But Jesus had empathy and benevolence as his core values throughout his life.

            The Crusades didn’t happen until long after Christ and happened during a period of history where the Bible wasn’t available in English and most people were illiterate and had corrupt religious leaders. In other words, the crusades weren’t a natural product of Jesus and his teachings. It was a natural product of human greed, just like any political contention that embargoes the universal and intrinsic value of human life.

    3. Christina says:

      I agree with Mike.
      I live in China, and the children here honestly have a better sense of ethics than most kids I worked with in the US. Yes, it is Chairman Mao, and while the government here may be perfect, I’d hardly say the politicians in the US are great role models for children.
      I’m disturbed that the picture of someone with different beliefs than you is what makes you sad, and not the children living in filth, without shelter.

      1. tyler says:

        Didn’t a toddler get run over by two vehicles in china, and no one did a thing to help? Isn’t china a leading producer of knock-off products? isn’t china’s media state run? not sure if you can say china’s kids have a better sense of ethics dude.

        1. Sierra says:

          An elderly man got run over by two cars in the US and no one did anything either. http://www.nbcconnecticut.com/news/local/Hit-and-Run-Victim-Dies.html
          Why does China produce knock-off products? Because WE demand the most product for the least amount of money.
          Do you really think there isn’t a filter on what they decide to show in our media? Everything is about entertainment in this country, not facts.
          And you don’t think kids in China have a better sense of ethics? When I went there I met 18-year-old students who, instead of dressing like hookers and having sex with anyone they could get their hands on, were studying their butts off because they had dreams of going to university (to STUDY, not get piss drunk).

          And AMERICAN kids have better ethics? -.-
          Some people need to do some traveling before they open their mouths (or type).

          1. vg says:

            I really appreciate your answer!. The media always portrays what they want you to see, not the truth. Please do not accept everything blindly. There are a lot of great things happening around the world which are not portrayed by the media. All they show is the messed up ones.

  4. serena says:

    The little beauty pageant queen struck me as the most tragic of them all. Actually the two that showed the most blatant privilege were the most upsetting. it was a good use of contrasts.

  5. Kimberly says:

    I wish my kids could understand just how good they have it here in America and not take so much for granted, they apprecate the things they have and by no means are they spoiled but I dont think they relly get it that some people have far less. And we should be so greatful to have the opportunitys that we have here in America.

    1. Isaac says:

      I absolutely understand the contrasts, but people don’t understand that they exist in America as well. I’ve lived in a variety of conditions, having 5 siblings, and parents in college and trying to find careers as I grew up. I’ve lived in everything from a 3-man tent to a 5-bedroom mansion with a daylight basement. I’ve been at the low end of poverty, and the higher end of middle-class living, though my parents have never been “rich” by American standards.

  6. MamaZuzi says:

    The most disgusting of these are the two girls dressed up like plastic dolls in rooms of pure plastic. If only the money spent on those bedrooms could be used for something so much more meaningful to help children in need.

  7. Hamdy Nossair says:

    I am sorry to say that People in USA have no idea what poverty is. I grow up like one of those kids and I did not even have a bed room, but I was very happy because I did not know better and I was surrounded with love of my parents. Now, I can say that our kids in USA have every thing and yet they have nothing. They need more love, hugs and kisses from their parents.

    1. Ramona says:

      There is still much poverty in the United States that needs attention. So much want within our own borders.

    2. Tallulah says:

      I grew up in the USA and lived there for 48 years, and I have to say that you’re making some very broad statements there. True, I think that many people who live in a prosperous country come to take prosperity for granted. But there are also many (like most of the people I’m close to) who are very aware that in most of the world and throughout human history, most people have lived in extreme poverty compared to the relatively free countries of the modern world. Information about poverty is abundant and easily available to anyone who is interested. So is information about what kind of political and economic system makes prosperity possible and what holds it back.

      As to kids in the USA having everything and yet having nothing, is that true of most of the people you know in the USA? There are over 300,000,000 people in the US. I have only known a tiny percentage of them personally over my lifetime and of those there’s an even smaller percentage that I’ve known well enough to be able to evaluate whether their kids are getting enough of love, hugs, kisses, and other kinds of crucial attention from their parents. Of those people I know well enough, I judge that about… ehhh… 95% do a fine job.

      Of course, we tend to spend the most time with people like ourselves. But I’m not one to assume that my special group of friends are an exceptional elite in the American social landscape.

      I now live in Australia and have done so for 9 years, and the people I know here have the same kind of family relationships as the people I knew well in the USA. Not hard to find, those people.

      As to the two little plastic children among these photographs, I think it’s odd that TWO photos were chosen of this type of atypical phenomenon while there was only one image that came *close* to the typical bedroom of a middle class American kid – the bedroom belonging to the girl in the RIO tee shirt. And even that room didn’t quite represent the vast majority of kids’ bedrooms I’ve seen in middle class homes in either the USA or Australia (most are not that cramped,for example, with two beds so close together). I’d like to see just one image of a kid’s bedroom typical of a middle-class home in the USA (and it will probably be messy), instead of *two* atypical bedrooms of two atypical little girls who look like freaky products of juvenile beauty pageants. (One atypical beauty pageant bedroom is enough if you really want to show it as a novelty or to show diversity. But the atypical is less informative of a culture than the typical, and certainly does not deserve to be granted over-representation.)

  8. lidong says:

    The photo about chinese boy with “Mao zedong” picture can not behalf of all the chinese children in China, at least my daughter is in happyness and she has a comportable bed.

  9. Marion says:

    The little boy in the red jacket has such haunted eyes. I cry for all these children – including the ‘princess’ in yellow !

  10. tiggy says:


    Here’s the link to the pics. My sister sent it to me a while ago. Most of them are sad but I was actually surprised how many sleeping places actually somehow reminded me of my own. :P (I.e. all clothes on the floor cause no place for them, spartan white room with small windows close to ceiling, guns.) But I’m adult and can change that, wish I could change the situation for those kids too. :/ One way is to spread pictures like these to make people more aware of how children suffer.

  11. Esther says:

    Yeah, I don’t know if it has been corrected yet, but this is actually James Mollison’s book Where children Sleep. Awesome book filled with many more photos.

  12. Malagos the deciever says:

    The rich kids look like they are vapid, board & soulless.
    The poor kids are all saying a lot with their eyes.
    Peter Menzel’s “Material World.”

    1. Mike says:

      That’s a tough critique. Don’t mistake the poor kids sadness or hunger with some kind of innate wisdom. All of those kids would rather be playing with their friends than either struggling or getting makeup put on them.

  13. A-teague says:

    The little boy in the red coat has to be a Slavic country. You can’t judge by fabrics or patterns…western patterns are shipped all over the world.

    1. Lulu says:

      A-teague, what makes you think he’s from a Slavic country? Is it because he is homeless? People live like that in the US too. And there is nothing particularly ‘western’ about the fabrics. Patterns may originate here, but it is just as common for patterns to originate elsewhere and be adopted by us. For example, the blanket lying on the bed is plaid. Plaids originated in – not the US, and not even Scotland, but China. The color red originated in Mexico, and came to us through Spain and then Europe.

      You could come closer to guessing by the color of the soil, which excludes most, but not all, of the American South, parts of the American Southwest, and other places where soil is more red or yellow than it is in the picture. That still leaves most American states, as wll as Slavic and other countries.

  14. Michael says:

    Very Sad indeed. It makes me feel like I am a millionaire with Zero problems.
    When I was a teen I lived on the streets for a stretch but it was because I made it happen. No one was to blame but myself. I can relate to the mattress in the field a bit. These kids seem like they had no chance or hope. Makes me sad to be part of a world like this.

    1. Tallulah says:

      There was a time – throughout most of human history in fact – when most people lived like this, and even the rich had no indoor plumbing. In fact, all the kids in these pictures have shelters as good as or better than the typical ones of their ancestors centuries back. Of course, compared to what is possible to human beings, how most people had to live through most of humanity’s existence, including the poor of today, is wretched. What changed it for some countries was the establishment of individual rights under the law, recognized for all – the establishment of rule of law and equality under the law – and *property rights and property documents* for the common man, which gave rise to the freedom to create and to trade and thereby to create wealth that didn’t exist before.

      Yes, poverty exists in the USA, but it is nothing like the firmly entrenched, widespread, permanent poverty of the Third World. And what those Thirds World nations lack that the wealthier nations have is a protection of property rights for all, including the poor, and a solid legal structure dedicated to defending all people’s rights under the rule of law.

      I was not aware until recently that a fundamental contributor to poverty in poor countries is a lack of means for the poor to register the land and other property that they informally “own” in the formal legal system. There is a huge amount of property that these people could sell for several times more with a title than without it, or that a family could borrow against to start a business or improve the little business they have, but they cannot, because they have no way to get a title.

      I highly recommend the following interview for more information:

      As to the boy in the photo who sleeps on a mattress outside… I would be very surprised if that is a permanent situation for him. The poverty in countries like the USA (if that is where he is) can be harsh, but there is far more help available and people can much more easily move up from poverty than where economies are held down by poor legal infrastructure.

      But we shouldn’t be smug about that. Western governments have been undermining our economies for quite a while, and the poo is now beginning to hit the fan. We all should take this seriously and educate ourselves on economic history and the principles of economics so that we know what to support and what to reject when it comes to economic policy. The world doesn’t need any more poverty.

      1. Lulu says:

        I grew up on archeological digs in the US and can reassure people who have never experienced anything like the boy with the outdoor mattress lives with – it’s actually a better than comfortable way to live. What I think you are associating with it is worry – he may not have that association at all.

        I’d trade places with that child any day over having to live like the two little girls who live from thrill to thrill and endure the constant stress of too many decisions ( a known stresser for children) without ever experiencing what has been proven to be the greatest source of happiness – caring for others and helping out. If you’re surprised to learn this, consider that very few American parents understand this, but it’s true ( look it up, or see the book Teaching Your Children Joy). In some American cultures, regular chores are never given, nor are the children ever asked to help another family member, do volunteer work, or anything like that. The term ‘spoiled’ comes not from a child having too much, but from their being deprived the pleasure of helping others. You will never find a happy child who thinks life is all about me, me, ME.

  15. sunshine99 says:

    I have seen this book. The boy with the mattress in the field is actually from Romania.

  16. George says:

    Why are some of the kids the poorest in their country and some from the most affluent families in their respective countries this is an unfair comparison.

  17. Terri Knoll says:

    All of them gripped my heart, but the Palestinian boy from the West Bank has to sleep in a destroyed house while the Jewish boy lives in what used to be a Palestinians home. What disturbs me the most is the U.S. is paying for this to happen. Please research that. Let’s keep our tax dollars at home to help that boy sleeping on a mattress in the field. :(

  18. Sensen says:

    Actually the picture of the girl with her doll like dress is dressed as a sweet lolita, it’s a Japanese fashion subculture… not a wet dream. Look it up, I believe that dress is from BTSSB.

    Aside from that I’m not very partial to the choice photographs he took of the children in countries outside of the US/Europe… there is such a thing as middle class outside of here :)

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