Child journalists convene to share experiences
Dhaka, 25 May 2011: Mokarram Rana confidently takes to the stage at the 2nd Child Journalist Convention and begins addressing a large crowd of children, parents, dignitaries, government ministers and media personnel about his experiences as a child journalist.
“In our society, children are considered to have no voice to raise”, says the 15-year old from Rangpur in north west Bangladesh. “But as child journalists we’ve been given that opportunity and today I’ve been given the chance to speak in front of you all and truly raise my voice.” At this many of the other 640 child journalists, listening attentively in the audience, begin to nod their heads in agreement.
Rana and his peers are part of a UNICEF-supported project called Children Express, which aims to address the lack of child participation and representation in Bangladesh. A recent study found children’s issues were rarely reported on by the country’s media and when they were, the reports were often negative.
Children Express seeks to change that reality by involving children in the reporting process and increasing awareness among professional journalists on child rights and representation. Based on the mantra 'Let the Children Speak', Children Express began in 2005 and is run by UNICEF-partner organisation Mass-line Media Centre (MMC) in 64 districts of Bangladesh.
In each district, 10 child journalists - five boys and five girls- are chosen to form a news agency that is supervised by a senior journalist, known as a team leader. Since 2009, annual conventions have taken place in the capital Dhaka, which bring the child journalists together.
For Rana, the convention not only gives budding reporters a chance to mingle and exchange ideas with one another, but also gives them the opportunity to be heard by others. “I’m really happy to be here this year because there are so many important adults who are willing to listen to what we have to say and how we feel.”
“I have a younger sister who is physically disabled and she faces many challenges because of her disability,” says Rana. “This inspired me to write a report on what life was like for disabled children, so with the help of my team leader, I visited a school for the disabled and found there to be a negative stigma attached to disability that was badly affecting the children’s access to proper care.”
Since the project began, it has nurtured 1,800 child journalists country-wide, who have produced more than 3000 individual reports and 1,252 group reports, mainly focusing on issues relating to children and child rights. Once written, the reports are sent to a central desk in Dhaka to be edited and disseminated to various websites and newspapers. Many of the published reports have led to change in local communities.
“Our motto speaks for itself,” says child journalist Ishrat Ara Atika Begum. “For me, Children Express is about giving children an opportunity to speak out and voice their opinions because nobody knows more about children’s issues than the children themselves.”
Fourteen-year-old Atika, who lives in Mymensingh, helped produce a report about a lack of playing space in a near-by slum. Atika says the local government took interest in the matter after the story was published and are now looking into building playgrounds for the children who live there.
Over the years, reports by child journalists have helped stop child marriages, drawn attention to human rights violations against the children of ethnic minorities and led to the increase of key health facilities and services. Children Express journalists have had their work nationally recognised at award ceremonies and have participated in several national and international forums, including the Copenhagen Climate Summit in 2009.
“Sometimes it can be difficult to get taken seriously as a child journalist but we offer a unique perspective on children’s’ issues that adult journalist can never have because we are children and we live the reality of children.” For those children living a harsh reality, Rana hopes his work can make a small difference to their lives.
The Chief Guest at the 2nd Child Journalist Convention was Mr Abul Kalam Azad, Minister of Information and Cultural Affairs. Other notable guests included Dr AAMS Arefin Siddique, Vice Chancellor of Dhaka University, Golam Sarwar, Editor of the Daily Samakal and Carel de Rooy, UNICEF Bangladesh Representative.