Children and COVID-19: Affected but overlooked by the media

The novel coronavirus is ravaging through communities irrespective of factors such as nationality and age yet the effect it has on children is often glossed over in the media.

“Most of the times when children are left out they are the biggest victims and most vulnerable in such situations,” said Chisoni Banda, a 21-year-old Zambian social worker and youth reporter for Sun FM in Ndola, Zambia.

Banda has been a youth reporter for the past two years under the Children's Radio Foundation’s (CRF) Zambia banner. CRF is a non-profit organisation that works various African communities to amplify the voice of young people through radio.

CRF fundraising and development associate Ashley Ellis said children are often misrepresented or underrepresented in the news.

“Children are often not seen. But in a pandemic, we are all impacted,” Ellis said, adding that the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has unravelled wider socio-economic issues in communities such as the quality of housing which directly affect children.

“Whatever problem society goes through, children go through as well, so it makes sense to include them in the news as well,” said Mary-Ann Nobele, a youth facilitator at Alex FM, in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Thembela Booi, a KQ FM producer and youth facilitator from Port Elizabeth, South Africa, said society tends to undermine the opinion and the experiences of children even in issues that directly affect them.

“The issue is that people assume that ‘children are children’ with stupid views or with no solutions at all,” Booi said.

Tanzanian youth reporter Neema Theonest said she wants to amplify the voices of her peers because they have value to add in society.

“I want to educate society on the importance of children in our society [and] help eradicate bad customs and beliefs which affect children,” the 16-year-old said.

However, the effects of COVID-19 have halted her aspirations and her life in Ilemela District.

Many countries have enforced lockdowns and curfews to curb the spread of COVID-19 in its communities, shutting down various institutions. UNESCO estimates that 1.5 billion young people and children are out of school because of the pandemic and calls it a “major educational crisis”.

“I had a segment of visiting different schools in Tanzania and taking out some children’s talent and publish to TV shows and radio shows. The eruption of the virus has closed schools so my segment has stopped,” Theonest said.

Zanele Molo shares a similar story while confined in her family’s Cape Town home because of South Africa’s lockdown. Molo is a 16-year-old Centre of Science and Technology learner and reports for her school as an Optimistic Youth Reporter.

“The only form of reporting I can do now is with my cellphone,” she said adding that she does everything between research and contacting sources from the palm of her hand.

Ellis said the CRF took what it had learnt from working during the ebola crisis to figure out how to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. That included ensuring the distribution of valuable information to communities from remote areas of work.

The CRF distributes weekly resources to its radio partners that includes facts of COVID-19 and how to combat the disease. Ellis said WhatsApp helps to distribute integrated coverage about the pandemic to communities, especially to young people who have already tapped into the social medium.

“It’s important that our youth radio partners continue to report and be heard because they’re relatable. It is about distilling factual information in a youth-friendly style. This is information from experts adapted to be relatable and understandable,” Ellis said.

Radio stations distribute the CRF’s resources to their reporters who then send them out to their audiences.

“My team has [WhatsApp] broadcast lists which they send out COVID-19 resources to,” Nobele said, adding that her group had to work around the challenge of reporting through screens.

Molo said she has realised the information gap social media fills even with the added responsibility of having to ensure that the information shared is true.

“I have to make sure everything I share is factual and not opinion and also not false news. I also try and [convince] people from believing false news,” she said.

“The resources we distribute are about combatting misinformation,” Ellis said, adding that “bad actors” spread fake resources for multiple reasons such as spreading fear during a crisis.

Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg told children that “it’s OK to get a little scared,” during a pandemic, HuffPost reports. Solberg was speaking at a special children’s press conference her team held on March 17 to address any questions children had about COVID-19.

Molo said she wished children had a wider platform to ask questions and to voice their opinions on issues such as the new coronavirus pandemic.

“It wouldn’t be fair to be excluded from things that happen in our country. You never know, a solution could come from a child. Children could be critical thinkers. Children could be innovators,” Molo said.

In the interim of seeing how the coronavirus pandemic will play out, Theonest said she continues to “fight” to inform her peers on how to protect themselves from acquiring the virus.

“As a young reporter, I have not stopped working [...] I still have a great duty to educate society about the coronavirus so as to go against it and eradicate it in our country,” she said.

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