“National Child Protection Week is an annual campaign of the Government of South Africa led by the Department of Social Development in partnership with other government departments and civil society organisations. Key partners include Childline and Unicef. The goal for Child Protection Week is to promote the culture of respect for children’s rights thus ensuring that all children grow up in an environment that is safe from abuse, neglect and exploitation…” Taken from Bua News
As we celebrate National Child Protection week and use it to raise awareness about children’s issues, let there be no doubt that efforts to protect our children should go beyond these seven days and awareness about the plight of South African children should be raised continuously. However, I deeply question if this is being done.
Apart from being ‘champions of democracy’ the role of the media in a democratic state is also to give voice to the voiceless. This includes children, who are our most vulnerable citizens and who more often than not, bear the brunt of society’s ills. It’s hard to understand why, besides the occasional rape story, children get so little media coverage.
It’s even more difficult to understand, considering that:
• 2 in 5 citizens are under 18
• 2 in 3 children live below the poverty line
• 1 in 3 children have no running water at home
• 2 in 5 children don’t have proper toilets
• 1 in 5 children have no electricity at home
• 1 in 3 teens travel long distances to school
• 2 in 5 schools don’t have adequate sanitation
Why the silence about children? Why are the conditions that many of South Africa’s children not put on the spotlight for the country to see? Why do so many of our children’s stories remain untold? The struggles they meet on a daily basis, which range from having to return to abusive homes because of a lack of places of safety; the exploitation they face when raising their siblings; the extremes some have to go to for a glass of water or a plate of food and many other sad, terrifying tales… Why is there no awareness being raised about this?
If we are really serious about protecting the nation’s young and most vulnerable citizens, we as civil society should also act, holding the media accountable for their lack of responsiveness to the plight of the nations children.
There is no doubt that, South Africa has some of the most progressive laws on the protection of children. These include:
• The Constitution, adopted in 1996, is the supreme source of law in South Africa which protects the rights of all children. Section 28 of the Constitution clearly sets out rights for every child. A child’s best interests are of paramount importance in all matters.
• South Africa ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the world’s leading instrument on the rights of children and young people. By signing up the Convention, the South African government committed itself to protect and promote children’s rights.
• Maintenance Act (1998) guarantees the socio-economic rights afforded children in the Constitution by ensuring that every child has the right to a standard of living adequate for the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development. The Act ensures that maintenance for the child is recovered form the patents or other persons financially responsible for the child.
• The Childrens’Act (2005) and Children’s Amendment Act (2007) serve as instruments for fighting child poverty and of promoting the rights of children.
• The passing of the Sexual Offences and the Films and Publication Amendment Bills by Parliament further creates an enabling environment for protection of children and prosecution of offenders in South Africa.
• The annual Child Protection Week, 16 Days of Activism for no Violence against Women and Children and the launch of the 365 Days plan of action reflect the determination of government and its civil society partners to ensure that every child enjoys their Constitutional rights.
Yet the media fail to hold those responsible for implementing these laws accountable for any failure to do so. They also fail to highlight the child trafficking and subsequent child exploitation for purposes of prostitution, forced labour, and muti-related crimes – all serious issues, placing our children at risk.
There is no doubt that, a multi-sector approach is needed to adequately address child poverty and end child-directed abuse and violence, the media is one of the sectors with an important role to play in achieving this. Civil society too, has a role to play in the protection of children, unfortunately, they cannot play that role adequately if they do not know what is happening to our children.
I truly hope that the media use Child Protection Week as an opportunity to build the partnerships required in ensuring that they bring children’s issues to the fore and there is no doubt that, if this can happen, we will be closer to ensuring that children are protected from abuse and vulnerability.