Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) has observed how over the past few weeks the Sowetan has been consistent in bringing issues that affect children on the agenda. Particular focus has been paid to the rights of children to access basic education and how this right has been violated. The Sowetan took time to produce investigative and well thought out reports that not only highlighted the challenges that children face in learning but also the implications it has on their rights. The focus has spun from highlighting serious concerns about the lack of proper infrastructure to a dearth of nutrition in school lunches. All this has been done through a series of compelling, insightful investigative stories.

The Sowetan’s groundbreaking coverage deserves recognition and amounts to the ethical standards of journalism we at MMA advocate for in media’s coverage of children.

The front page story “Broken School, Broken promises” (03/03/2016, pp.1-8&9) sets the scene for this groundbreaking coverage. The featured articles published under the banner, “Broken schools”, relayed some of the difficulties children endure in getting education. From this edition, two pages where dedicated to, (i) unpacking the complexity of access to education (ii) bringing about various voices involved; more especially children, the community, the department of education and experts and lastly (iii) to following up on some developments that have been made and/or the lack thereof.

It is also worth noting that this news story received front page coverage. For the Sowetan to lead with this story in their front page shows editorial commitment to raising awareness about issues affecting children and the challenges they go through.

Continuing in their efforts of giving priority to the issue of education, the Sowetan published follow-up articles, this time adopting a children’s rights approach. An editorial piece titled, “These children’s rights also matter” (22/03/2016) reminds South African’s and government to pay attention to the violation of the rights of pupils of Mpepule Primary School in Limpopo. This editorial and the many articles published in this edition revealed inhumane conditions pupils lived under at a school on Overyssel farm outside Lephalale. The coverage focused on the dilapidated classrooms which double up as classrooms for lessons during the day and as sleeping quarters at night.

The headlines of the articles published as part of this series paint a bleak picture of the hardships that children at Mpepule Primary School have to endure. Headlines such as ‘’Children take up adult duties to help each other survive’’ (22/03/2016, p.8), ‘’How our children’s dignity is violated’’ (22/03/2016, pp. 8-9) and ‘’Lazy teachers blamed for exodus’’ (22/03/2016, p.9), just to name a few, clearly demonstrate how the rights of South Africa’s youngest citizen are violated.

The Sowetan’s coverage should be commended as a good example of child-centred journalism that has forced relevant stakeholders including other media1 to follow up on the issue. MMA hopes that other media are inspired to pursue and provide sufficient coverage on issues that affect children as done by the Sowetan.

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By Muzukayise Mike Maseko

1. Other media such as Eyewitness News, Talk Radio 702’ have followed in the footsteps of the Sowetan by debating the issue at hand.