Child journalists given confidence to inspire change
Sherpur, Bangladesh, 15 March 2012: For three decades, the large pond at Sherpur Government Girls High School sat in the middle of the whittled playground. The students played around it, trying hard to avoid the piles of rubbish that were slowly gathering around the edge and the smell emanating from the filthy water. There was little room for the 900 students at the school to exercise, let alone set up sporting games like badminton, a favourite at the school.
Now, the students no longer have to worry because the pond has been filled thanks to a 150,000 taka donation, organised by a local Member of Parliament. It was during that visit that he was persuaded to improve the school’s playground - not by the teachers or the Head Master but by a 13-year-old girl named KarizFatema Queen.
[The M.P] came to visit the school to inspect the building and hear about any problems we may have had. I mentioned that the first thing we need to do was get rid of the pond so we had room to play,” says Queen, recounting the story. “I was confident enough to speak to him in front of everyone because I knew I had a right to voice my opinion. He was impressed with me and asked what extra-curricular activities I was doing. I told him I was involved with Children Express” she says.
Based on the mantra 'Let the Children Speak'Children Express began in 2005 with the aim of increasing the participation of children in the mass-media, and to raising awareness among professional journalists on child rights and representation.
Children Express is run by UNICEF-partner Mass-line Media Centre (MMC) in 64 districts of Bangladesh and every two years 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. The child journalists are encouraged to write reports about issues surrounding child rights.
Since the project began, it has nurtured 1,800 child journalists country-wide by training them on feature writing, workplace ethics, the use of technical equipment such as computers and cameras and child rights and responsibilities.
“The children enrolled [in the Child Express programme are more confident in communicating their ideas. They often perform better at school, which is something their parents feel very positive about.” says Mohammad Abdul Hakim Babul, a journalist and Team Leader of Sherpur Children Express.
Hakin meets Queen and her fellow child journalists every fortnightat a venue donated by a local press association, with access to desks and computers. Once there, they discuss story ideas, and work on group and individual reports, which are then sent to a central desk in Dhaka to be edited and disseminated to various websites and publications.
Child journalists have produced more than 3000 individual reports and 1,252 group reports, mainly focusing on issues relating to children and child rights. “We know you should be above a certain age to work but there are many working children who are very young and we know that that’s wrong,” says 15-year-old MohammaedMahbubMorshed, also a child journalist in Sherpur. Mahbub says he wants to write stories that will draw attention to the plight of poor working children.
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.For many of the child journalists, Children Express has not only helped them better understand their rights but has given them an avenue to communicate their ideas.
“I knew about child rights before but it was only after I joined Children Express that I become confident enough to express myself,” says Queen, who now wants to make the leap from a child journalist to a professional one.