Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) is thrilled to award a GLAD to City Press for the publication’s 21 January issue that consisted of a full two-page spread of stories with a focus on critical child-related issues and which accessed children’s voices on these.
There are four stories in particular that deserve a special mention. The first, “Let’s talk about sex, babies” (p. 13) by Michelle Solomon reports on a high-level multi-stakeholder policy dialogue hosted by the Department of Basic Education, Unesco (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) and the Swedish government where new approaches to “comprehensive sexuality education” were discussed. This was in response to the release of a Unesco technical report that provides guidance to governments on how best they can develop suitable rights-based sex education programmes.
While the main article focuses on the merits of the guidance report and the discussions at the dialogue, more critically were two supplementary articles by Vuyo Mkize that share individual experiences of sex education in South Africa. In the story “’I wish my parents had taught me’” (p. 13), a matric pupil, whose identity has been concealed with a pseudonym, shares how the only sex education she received from her parents was a once-off brief conversation where they told her to “stay a virgin”. In the article, she describes how she first learnt about sex through magazines and that she wished she could have more open conversations with her parents about these types of issues.
In the second supplementary story on the same page, “’My daughter is empowered by the knowledge’”, a mother of three reveals her proactive approach to discussing sex with her eldest daughter, who is almost thirteen. She shares specifically about how critical it is for children to learn that “my body is mine” from their parents and how an open child-parent relationship is key to children sharing when sexual violations occur.
This combination of stories provides insights from an international and government level all the way through to an individual child’s and parent’s perspective and therefore provides a wonderful holistic view on the issue of sex education.
The last story, “Tormented at school and online” (p. 12) by Msindisi Fengu, reports on the issues of both on- and offline bullying by children. The article describes the experiences of an overweight Grade 11 pupil who was severely bullied by school mates at school and on social media to such an extent that she contemplated not going back to school. While the sharing of Lethu’s story [not her real name as explained in the article] highlights some of the negative consequences of bullying, it portrays her in a positive light and as a young woman with agency. Alongside this, the article also highlights the potential repercussions for those who share harmful content online and provides advice for both parents and children on how to handle instances of bullying and cyberbullying. In this way, the story not only brings the issue of bullying to the fore where an individual personal story is shared, but it also provides practical steps to help those who are confronted with the vice.
Not only do the articles highlighted above address critical child-related issues that are often neglected in mainstream media, they also provide a platform for children to share their own experiences, opinions and ideas about these. This is an exemplary practice considering that children’s voices remain marginalised in our media.
South Africa is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which seeks to promote the participation of children in a variety of spheres, including media. Despite this, research conducted by MMA in 2016 demonstrates that children are only accessed in 12% of stories about them (even though they make up 40% of the South African population).
It is our core belief that children have the capacity to provide rich textured contributions to discussions on various issues and that only when their voices are accessed can their ideas be heard. We therefore commend all efforts by journalists, such as those here, that deliberately promote the voices of children in their news stories.
Well done again to City Press! We look forward to reading many more stories that centre on children and their experiences.
By Sarah Findlay
 A GLAD refers to an article where the rights and welfare of children have been promoted.
The following are the responses to the commentary from City Press;
That’s fantastic news, and thank you for awarding the team a Glad. The City Press has been doing great work in this area, and I’m thrilled that I could be part of this reportage as a freelancer.
Assistant Editor: News and Investigations
We at City Press feel that it is very important to include the voices of children on issues that affect them. This is not just because sound journalism practice dictates that we need to go to the source, but because, frankly, it makes the stories far more engaging. Stories about policy issues affecting children can be dreadfully boring if the children themselves are left out of them.
We also like to practice solutions-based journalism when we can – proposing solutions to problems the stories outline. We have found that children often have the best ideas about how to deal with the issues that affect them. Even though they are young, they shouldn’t be underestimated or believed not to have valid opinions or solutions.
However, we still need to protect children when they appear in the newspaper. This involves removing their identities on potentially contentious stories such as those you mention here. We would prefer to spare them the embarrassment of coming up in internet searches for the rest of their lives for remarks they made which they could later regret!