Children are often reported on in a very limited way as “innocents” or silent “victims” . However, The Times  article (“Pupils still waiting for school”, 20/01/2010, p. 5) by Zandile Mbabela gave children a voice and portrayed them as active citizens rather than passive recipients of adult behaviour. For this, The Times  deserve was picked as the MAD OAT Glad for the week..

The article is about a 15 year-old girl who wrote a letter to President Jacob Zuma and Gauteng Education MEC, Barbara Creecy, informing them that she has not yet started school this year even though schools had opened. The girl recently moved from Western Cape to Gauteng and had been shuffled between district offices and the Gauteng Department of Education trying to find a school.

Importantly, The Times gave the girl a voice. Apart from highlighting that she has been falling behind because she has not been to school since the beginning of the year, the girl is also quoted as saying, “I am under the impression that education is the right of a 15-year-old girl in the not-so-new South Africa and I appeal for any help as to how I may access it”.

By quoting the girl and providing her with an opportunity to speak for herself about the impact of adult behaviour, in particular the provincial Department of Education, on her life, The Times reminds society that children have rights. In addition to that, the article indicated that the teenager threatened to take the matter to the Constitutional Court to “declare the Department of Education’s placement procedure unconstitutional”.

This story demonstrated that children can be active participants in issues that affect them. Since the future belongs to them, children can and should be encouraged to engage on issues that affect them. This is particularly important as society cannot hope to devise ways to solve children’s problems unless it hears from children themselves.

Inspiringly, The Times accessed the Gauteng Department of Education on the matter. The Department confirmed that such cases are being dealt with and the operations centre set up at the Department’s head office should be able to assist the girl. However, the article could have done even better if it provided contact details for the people responsible for dealing with such cases to help others who experience similar problems.

Overall, The Times article is commendable as it shows that children are not passive but rather have agency. Furthermore, the article shows that media can play a pivotal role in facilitating and protecting children’s rights. Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) encourages The Times to keep on produce similar, positive stories on children.

See UNICEF and Media Monitoring Project (2003) All sides of the story. Reporting on children: a journalist’s handbook.