Recent Media Monitoring Africa analysis shows news coverage of children increased from 6% to 13% between 2016 and 2020.
While this is a 116.6 % increase, Media Monitoring Isu Eihle Awards judge and mentor Jamaine Krige explained that when children are mentioned in the media, the coverage is often event-based or anecdotal.
“Instead of pursuing feature stories that really unpack issues, we are reporting on it as it happens when it happens, sporadically, episodically not paying attention to the nuances of reporting on children,” Krige said.
Often, the media gets it wrong. A recent article published by South African publication Daily Sun reported on an eight-year-old girl from Soshanguve who was allegedly raped by her neighbour with quotes of her experience.
MMA found this to be potentially subjecting the young interviewee to harm because she was made to relive her traumatic experience through an interview.
“Protecting children in this type of story goes beyond concealing their identities. Having children relive their traumatic ordeals has the potential to lengthen their healing process.” read the case statement published by MMA.
When it comes to children’s reporting it is critical to get it right. However, lack of training is a challenge that often leads to children’s voices and stories being neglected.
“Journalists know this but the stakes are incredibly high, so it might be easier when a story presents a challenge to rather not do it,” said Krige.
Kenyan early child development reporter Thomas Bwire said that the local community could be approached directly when doing a story about children.
“Do research, ask the neighbours about signs about the incident or report on how children can stay safe or what to do when something like that happens,” he said.
A handbook on child welfare journalism best practices recommends that good reporting can shed light on the often overlooked and out-of-focus child welfare system.
Harvard University Nieman visiting fellow Mercy Adhiambo said good reporting can lead to crucial conversations.
“Good reporting can motivate policy changes and give voice to people who are too often excluded from public dialogue,” Adhiambo said.
Through her work, Adhiambo found that children were being failed and reporting has an empowering role to play in how it represents their struggles.
“Most of the time we rarely think about children yet they live with these traumas and then sometimes I wonder what will happen in the future when we are not telling children’s stories of what they experienced,” the Kenyan journalist said.
Bringing children back into the story can make child wellbeing and issues of equity top of mind.
University of Cape Town (UCT) Department of Paediatrics and Child Health health worker Dr Chris Scott argued that while children accounted for only 4% of cases and 0.5% of the deaths in the Western Cape in the first wave, thousands more children have been affected by the illness and death of family members.
“Children’s needs were side-lined, resources were diverted from paediatrics to adult COVID‑19 care, and concerns around infection prompted separation of infants and children from much-needed family support neglected,” Scott said in an article published by UCT News.
This means journalists need to produce more detailed pieces on child struggles and incidents that highlight challenges, systemic and information gaps that contribute to the scourge of injustices endured by children.
Bwire says going out into communities and talking to children is a way to fill information gaps.
“I was walking through my community one morning and I noticed small children playing and crossing the road during traffic times and I asked them how they felt and they said they needed places to play,” he explained.
Writing about the positive
The media can play a critical role in amplifying children’s voices beyond systemic failures and statistical figures.
“More resources should be put into our newsrooms towards the training of journalists and coverage of children’s stories because most of the time it’s not that journalists do not want to cover these stories but just don’t know how to,” Adhiambo said.
“We need to do more. When you go through your newspaper today you rarely see stories on children and if there is, it’s just stories about disasters,” Adhiambo said.