Given enormous challenges faced by South African children1, it is best practice for the media to give prominence to Child Protection Week as well as other campaigns that promote the protection of children. Child Protection Week usually presents an opportunity for many media outlets to put an effort into highlighting children’s issues. In this regard, The Star should be commended for raising awareness about how government officials deprive children of the protection they so richly deserve by publishing an outstanding opinion piece titled “Officials fail children, again and again” (05/06/ 2014) by Carmel Rickard. This article was selected as a GLAD2.
The article in question focused on an aspect of child protection that is vital but seldom covered or in most cases sensationalised3 in the media. It highlighted the failure of the South African justice system to effectively implement the Maintenance Act. According to Section 15 of the Maintenance Act (1998) a child must be supported or maintained by parents or grandparents and maintenance order can be made to compel them to do so; failure to do so is supposedly meant to have harsh consequences’.
In the piece, Carmel Rickard told a story of a woman who had struggled for many years to get her former husband to consistently pay maintenance for their children. She demonstrated how the justice system on several occasions negligently and unlawfully failed to take appropriate steps to enforce the payment of arrears in maintenance accumulated over a period of three years and instead took the decision to write-off amounts owed to the victim by her former husband. This begs the question, how is the Maintenance Act implemented and who does it actually benefit, if there are no real consequences for those who fail to pay maintenance. Rickard managed to simplify what seems to be a complex issue and provided an understanding to readers who might be suffering from these injustices.
The article also indirectly held those in power accountable by exposing their inability to protect and promote children’s rights as entrenched in our Constitution. She also showed that children and their rights can be compromised by those who are entrusted with the task of safeguarding them.
This opinion piece showed that despite Child Protection Week being an important time in our country to reflect on the safety, well-being, care and protection of children; a lot still needs to be done to ensure that the best interest of the child are paramount in all situations. We hope to see more articles that report on similar issues even beyond Child protection Week.
1. Child Gauge does extensive research on the conditions that children in South Africa live in, on a yearly basis. To see which challenges are faced by South African children click here↩
2. On a weekly basis, MMA highlights cases of good practice, where the media has promoted the rights and welfare of children, otherwise referred to as “GLADs”, as well as instances where the rights and welfare of children have been compromised through irresponsible media coverage, referred to as “MADs”↩
3. Media Monitoring Africa has written many comments about the quality of reporting on Maintenance cases. For example see: https://www.mediamonitoringafrica.org/index.php/resources/entry/maintenance_reporting_by_sowetan_violates_childrens_rights_to_dignity_and_p/↩