Children living in Motsoaledi informal settlement in Soweto walk long and dangerous distances from home to school and back, every day, in order to attend schools that teach in their mother tongue. According to the article “A merciless road: Long walk to education” (Sunday World, 03/02/2013, p. 11) children are “victims of a remnant piece of apartheid legislation, the rescinded 1950 Group Areas Act, which stipulated that township zones should be separated along tribal and ethnic lines, with mother tongue language being the main criteria.”

The article highlights some of the risks that children face on a daily basis, such as crossing busy roads and walking through dense bushes, as well as the solutions put forward by the community’s residents and the authorities. Yet, nowhere in the article do we hear the thoughts and opinions of the children directly affected. For this reason, Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) saw the article as a missed opportunity.

Ignoring children’s voices, especially on issues that impact them or revolve around them, reinforces the stereotype and false perception that children lack the maturity to form and exert their own opinions. While the article convincingly communicates the determination of children who walk up to six kilometers a day, on empty stomachs, no matter the severity of temperatures, we are left wondering what the children who go through these experiences feel, think and need.

Two accompanying photographs showing children in uniforms and walking to school are positive and demonstrate their commitment to education, echoing the article’s sentiment. The caption under one of the photographs also names the three children shown, and states that they “want government to provide them with transport from home to school and back again” indicating that the journalist spoke to the children, but failed to afford their voices prominence, in the body of the article.

It is important that journalists seek to access children and include their voices, when the subject of the story affects them; always making sure this is done in the children’s best interests. For guidance, journalists are encouraged to refer to MMA’s Editorial Guidelines and Principles for Reporting on Children in the Media which also states:

“Children’s Issues are important. Media professionals should always strive to bring attention to issues that affect children in society, e.g. social conditions, as outlined in the Millennium Development Goals, such as the eradication of child hunger and other general issues of education, lack of shelter, sustainability and more. Children’s interests (i.e. trends, music, and social media etc.) should also be explored and reported on by media professionals to encourage the involvement of children in the media.”

Although children were not accessed in this article, we commend Sunday World for giving attention to children’s issues and hope that in future reporting they will seek children’s opinions in stories that involve them.