South Africa


Journalists can make a difference in easing the plight of Africa’s children — here’s how

Journalists can make a difference in easing the plight of Africa’s children — here’s how
The phrase, Isu Elihle is isiZulu for ‘great idea’. It is an awards competition that encourages fresh thinking and innovative ideas for reports by African journalists on issues facing children. (Photo: / Wikipedia)

Reporting on children and incorporating them into stories can change lives, as the Isu Elihle Awards show.

Regular Daily Maverick readers have seen powerful but harrowing reporting on the dire situation our children are in, with stories about malnutrition in the Eastern Cape. These matter not only because they detail the most marginalised and most vulnerable having their rights further violated, but because if we are to have a future as a country, we have to focus on our children.

Any problem we don’t fix for our children today will make the problems of tomorrow exponentially worse. 

Don’t worry, this isn’t a piece that slams the state or the media, but one that we hope will inspire our continent’s finest journalists to produce something even more amazing.  

Children make up 35% of our population, but according to the latest report from Media Monitoring Africa (MMA), they only account for 10% of news coverage. In addition, the voices of children are marginalised, making up just 1% of stories.

journalists award africa's children

Children make up 35% of our population, but according to the latest report from Media Monitoring Africa, they account for only 10% of news coverage. In addition to being generally underrepresented, the voices of children are marginalised, making up just 1% of news reports. (Photo: Joyrene Kramer)

We do not suggest that the media need to cover children in proportion to their population, but as we found in MMA’s analysis of 2021 elections coverage, that women account for just 19% of sources, the way our media portray marginalised groups reflects not only how the news media see them, but also reinforces negative stereotypes.

In the case of women, underrepresenting them perpetuates their inequitable power in society and indirectly supports the notion that women aren’t as involved in politics as men. 

In the case of children, underrepresenting them supports the stereotype that children are not able to voice their own issues and participate in key matters that affect them. 

There are, as in most areas of democracy, serious challenges in our media. It’s one reason MMA has consistently monitored the portrayal of children for 19 years and the portrayal of women for more than 25.

In addition to raising awareness — in which we highlight a story every week that has reported well on children, and one that has failed to respect children’s rights — we wanted to encourage new and fresh ways of thinking about reporting on children. To this end, we will be running our honours-level course on reporting on children with Wits Journalism (a one-of-a-kind course in South Africa) to help improve journalists’ skills in this area.

One of our exciting initiatives to help improve the way children are portrayed is the Isu Elihle Awards — launched in 2016 and now also supported by Unicef — which are open to journalists throughout Africa.  

As the name suggests (“Isu Elihle” is isiZulu for “great idea”), the awards encourage fresh thinking and innovative story ideas on issues facing children. They also encourage journalists to hold those in power to account in order to address those issues.

journalists award africa's children

Any problem we don’t fix for our children today will make the problems of tomorrow exponentially worse. (Photo: Gallo Images / Sowetan / Vathiswa Ruselo)

Over the past six years, we have received applications from 20 countries across the continent. Journalists who make it to the finals receive R10,000 to help develop and publish their stories and encourage them to pursue their passion for reporting on children.

What makes the awards unique is that they not only reward great stories that have already been produced, but encourage journalists to think about an area or issue and then produce stories. The awards are life-changing and result in more ideas and more stories. As Jamaine Krige, a winner in 2018, said: “These awards changed my perspective. I stopped reporting about children [and] started incorporating them into my reporting.” 

While many of the stories deal with incredibly challenging issues, they are empowering, inspiring and solutions-driven. In 2019, the top prize was awarded to Thomas Otieno Bwire, an early childhood development reporter from Kibera in Kenya, for his in-depth coverage of the conditions that children in Kibera’s slums are forced to live in. It is a powerful story because it engages children’s views, talks about a hardly reported issue and seeks solutions. 

Watch Bwire’s story, No play space for children in Nairobi Slums: 

In 2020, the top prize went to South African freelancer Kathryn Cleary, a health journalist who is passionate about hunger and nutrition. Her story explored child hunger from a number of angles, as well as through the eyes and voices of children. She lets the facts speak for themselves and goes in depth in her investigation of child hunger.

In 2021, the prize was awarded to Dorcas Wangira, an early career journalist from Kenya, for her story on children in prisons. The excellent two-part series was comprehensive, showing legal and ethical challenges, but also positive because she allowed children to tell the story from their own perspective, while she held the powerful accountable and presented options for the future.

Other winners and special stories, which can be found on the awards’ website, include Undocumented refugee children by Jamaine Krige, South Africa’s missing children by Robyn Vorster in Daily Maverick, and Girl’s drive to seek green pastures leads her to sexual slavery by Tanzania’s Abdallah Bakari-Nassoro.

Entries for 2022’s Isu Elihle Awards are open — be creative, take a chance and enter now, time is running out. DM/MC

Girlie Sibanda was born and raised in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. She joined Media Monitoring Africa in November 2011 as a part-time media monitor before being promoted to children’s team project coordinator. She holds a Bachelor of Social Work Degree from the University of South Africa. She is responsible for the MMA Isu Elihle Awards programme.


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