Fighting with the pen
Noakhali, Bangladesh: “I can’t go to war for my country, but I can fight with my pen. I can work for the people, for human rights.”
Abony is just 16 years old but she is already a journalist, fighting for the rights of other children in Noakhali district, in south-east Bangladesh. She is one of 10 child journalists in the district who are part of the UNICEF-supported Shishu Prokash (Children’s Express) project.
Under the project, a total of 640 child journalists across Bangladesh receive journalism training and the guidance of a professional journalist, to write bi-monthly reports on child rights. The project is implemented by Mass-Line Media Centre, a national NGO.
Abony has been with the Noakhali team for two years. She wants to be a journalist at a national newspaper - like her father.
“As a girl I face various types of discrimination that boys don’t. I once met a girl who was very young but already married and pregnant. I felt I had to do something. By being involved with Shishu Prokash I can help make a change for girls,” she said.
The stories that these child journalists write are regularly printed in district and national newspapers.
“It was beyond my imagination when the project began that the children’s stories would be published in newspapers such as the Daily Star with the children’s by-lines,” says Noakhali team leader Abu Hasen Monju.
Learning the tools of the trade
“We were totally inexperienced when we started. We knew nothing about journalism and media. Before our training we didn’t know how to interview or investigate stories. Now I have confidence, experience, industry contacts and national and international exposure [through the new Shishu Prokash website],” he said.
The children have written several stories that have improved the lives of disadvantaged children in their community.
“Three years ago this area was flooded. Adult journalists wrote about the destruction, but we wrote about how the floods affected the children - there were skin diseases, snake bites, closed schools... Our report prompted government intervention,” said Mishu.
“We also wrote a story about children in slum areas who were involved in selling drugs. Adults force the children to do this illegal activity because they know the children are vulnerable and need the money. After our report, the police visited the area to investigate. Now the children are not doing this risky, illegal work,” he said.
“When we talk, people listen to us. We want to write about children’s rights. When we learn that our reports have made a change to their lives, we are proud of ourselves,” said Tehti, 17, another child journalist.
Setting the agenda
“The standard of their reports is very good. They are often better than adult journalists because they are honest and objective,” Monju said.
“Newspapers usually set the agenda, but child journalists are now able to set the agenda by putting reports to the media. Once their reports are published, the media often follow up on the issue. When authorities see that the story is written by a child journalist, they know it is objective and true. When the report is written by an adult journalist, they might question the truth. Adult journalists have their own motivations for a story – political, financial and business motivations.”
Monju explained that support from the community and a local NGO helps make the project sustainable.
Tehti recalls interviewing some slum children who were able to attend school, but the other children did not want to sit with them. “That made me very sad, but it encourages us to write for them. It is emotional and often difficult work,” Tehti said.
Mishu explained the first story he wrote: “On my first assignment for Shishu Prokash, I met a girl who was a maid. The head of the house had abused her. She had horrible burns on her arm and face from a hot iron. Seeing things like this motivates me to write stories.”