Hearing children speak in media coverage about their day-to-day lives during a pandemic is rare. Often, stories about the impact of the pandemic such as the Covid-19 involving children are told for the children and without their voices.  Such a trend might suggest that children are less impacted by the pandemic when in the actual sense, they are among the most affected groups what with schools being closed, the potential for their increased exposure to abuse and the fact that they cannot engage in any recreation outside of their homes etc.

When the media report stories about the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown and its impact on children, Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) gets GLAD, more so when such coverage includes children’s voices. MMA believes it is important for such stories to make the media’s agenda because often times during a pandemic, children feature less in coverage. This is sad because all issues facing children are important and should be reported to get the attention of policymakers etc. It is for this reason that MMA awards Pretoria News and Daily Maverick a GLAD[1] for giving their readers a glimpse into children’s lives during the Covid-19 pandemic. The GLAD is also awarded because both media included children’s views in the coverage.

The first article is titled, “The hidden impact of lockdown on children” (Daily Maverick, 29/05/2020) and reports the struggles children face during this pandemic. Issues such as abuse, food insecurity, neglect, anxiety and health concerns especially for the chronically ill children are exposed in the article.  The story by Kathryn Cleary of Spotlight is accompanied by a partly silhouetted image of a child with the caption that reads, “An image of a child abused in a household in Nigel, over 40% of young people have experienced some form sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse or neglect at some point in their lives.”

A teenager, Luzuko Sonkapu who suffers from a chronic illness called Spinal Muscular Atrophy is interviewed in this article. He is quoted saying, “Coronavirus and my illness, if they can click together they can basically kill me”. According to the article, Sonkapu is a reporter for the Red Cross Children’s Hospital  radio station.

Experts on children and issues facing them are also interviewed and quoted in the article, something that MMA always advises journalists to do.

The second article, “Tshwane pupils speak up about going back to school” (Pretoria News, 26/05/2020) is one where  grades seven and 12 learners speak about their lives during lockdown and how they feel about returning to their classrooms. The journalist, Sakhile Ndlazi goes over and above to access these children and get their opinions on going back to school.

By interviewing these children, the journalist adhered to the African Charter on the Right and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC).[2] Article seven of the Charter states, “Every child who is capable of communicating his or her own views shall be assured the rights to express his opinions freely in all matters and to disseminate his opinions subjects to such restrictions as are prescribed by law”.

South Africa ratified the ACRWC in 2000.

A grade 7 pupil, Nils Pabst is interviewed and quoted in the article. “I’m extremely excited about going back to school, as long as we practise physical distancing and keep the hygiene standard up. I realise that the school environment is going to be different from before lockdown, but it is still the school that I love. I have been doing schoolwork and I have been bonding with my family. I’ve been trying to exercise, but it’s been very limited,” says the Water-kloof House Preparatory School pupil.”

A slideshow of images of the children speaking accompanies the article.

The theme for the 2020 Child Protection Week, “Let us all protect children during COVID-19 and beyond” calls on everyone, including the media to ensure children are protected during and after the pandemic. Both journalists in the two articles discussed above have ensured the protection. Kathryn Cleary ensured that no child who suffered the abuse she wrote about is identified or indeed interviewed about their trauma. This protection is important as child victims of abuse should not be identified or interviewed in coverage to protect them from potential harm such as victimisation, retribution etc or subjected to secondary trauma before undergoing counselling.

Further, Sakhile Ndlazi’s reporting has promoted the protection of children by giving them a platform to voice their fears, among other feelings, about going back to school. This is important because these voiced fears might grab the attention of policy makers who might work to address them thereby ensuring the protection of children.

MMA applauds both journalists for the coverage. We look forward to reading more of such articles that highlight ills facing children during the Covid-19 pandemic as well as provide the children with a platform to voice their opinions and feelings about issues facing them. Well done!

By Lister Namumba and Bantse Pelle

[1] A GLAD is awarded when journalists report responsibly on children and promote their welfare

[2] https://au.int/sites/default/files/treaties/36804-treaty-0014_-_african_charter_on_the_rights_and_welfare_of_the_child_e.pdf