On Wednesday evening the glaring faces of two children whose home had been demolished following a court order must have made for a compelling story. The reaction the following day of public anger, sympathy and compassion may have justified how the story played out on TV.
But fresh out of a workshop in Grenada on child protection and matters dealing with the rights of children, including their privacy, my feelings were somewhat distorted. As I watched the story online from my hotel room I could not help but wonder about the long-term impact of the glaring images on the lives of those poor unfortunate children. Would they in consequence be subjected to bullying at school, and other discriminatory practices?
I also wondered whether another story, just as compelling, might’ve been told without the children’s images. Or were the kids, both under ten years, simply pawns of a blood-thirsty media and its equally twisted audience?
The stigmatization of children, negative manifestations of youth and their socialization habits, as well as a number of conventions on the rights of the child ratified by several Caribbean governments were discussed in Grenada. But what drew the most discussions from regional media personnel was how far is too far when it comes to reporting on matters involving children or any person below the age of eighteen.
While many countries have clear legal guidelines for reporting matters involving young offenders, the lines appear blurred when it comes to featuring stories of young victims, or children as witnesses.
Ratified by all Caribbean countries, the United Nations Convention on the rights of the child became a resource point at the OECS workshop, which concluded Wednesday. The training workshop for regional media practitioners was held June 11 and 12, in partnership with UNICEF and USAID. With an emphasis on the OECS Juvenile Justice Reform Project, the workshop targeted media representatives from Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, and St Vincent and the Grenadines. A number of social workers and stakeholders from Grenada were also invited. Saint Lucia was also represented by Rosemary Harris of GIS and Cecile Actille of DBS.
During the opening ceremony, Bentley Browne, Director, Social and Sustainable Development Division of the OECS Secretariat, spoke of the need for strengthening the capacity of the media and creating greater awareness of juvenile issues.
Also present was Louis J Crishock, Charge D’Affaires of the US Embassy in Grenada, who said the United States government was proud to see an integrated approach to such issues. “This initiative shows the value placed on professionalism in the media and news building . . . the Caribbean people deserve a quality product, including your listeners, viewers and readers.”
Lisa McLean- Trotman, Communications for Development Specialist- UNICEF, highlighted some of the issues faced by the region’s children, to which the media ought to pay close attention and treat with sensitivity. They included children who are abused, children who work on the streets, children with disabilities, children in conflict with the law, children exposed to anti-social behavior and children who are victims and witnesses to crimes.
She also called for alternative sentencing programs for juvenile offenders. Her final plea: “The case should not close after these children are buried.”
OECS Commissioner Dr. Patrick Antoine put forward the question: “How do we construct a caring OECS civilization?”
How we have treated children and youth, he said, left much to be desired.
The two-day workshop was seen as critical and timely by organizers, on the basis that the agreements between the OECS Secretariat and USAID for a Juvenile Justice Reform Program are deserving of support. The dissemination of information through the media as an agent of change as well as, facilitators of discussion and social discourse with reference to Juvenile Justice Sector was also viewed as necessary.
On the matter of “at risk youth” and children involved in anti-social behavior, it was pointed out that whilg some of the islands had facilities for boys in trouble with the law, in many organizers, on the basis that the agreements between the OECS Secretariat and USAID for a Juvenile Justice Reform Program are deserving of support. The dissemination of information through the media as an agent of change as well as, facilitators of discussion and social discourse with reference to Juvenile Justice Sector was also viewed as necessary.
On the matter of “at risk youth” and children involved in anti-social behavior, it was pointed out that while some of the islands had facilities for boys in trouble with the law, in many cases there were no similar places where girls could be housed. Saint Lucia of course has the beleaguered Boys Training Center, which Government after government have pledged to improve if not provide a new facility. A UNICEF report presented at the workshop cited Saint Lucia’s Center for Adolescent Renewal and Education (CARE) as “doing excellent work despite limited resources.”
Through slide presentations and discussions, workshop participants went through reform initiatives for juveniles and sought to clarify misconceptions on juvenile matters.
Participants also worked on establishing regional guidelines for reporting on children in need of care and protection and juvenile matters, while a number of practical sessions on reporting and writing were undertaken.
In the end, certificates of participation were awarded, but not before a lengthy wrap-up session with project coordinator Dwight Calixte. Attendants attempted to establish a code of conduct when reporting on issues involving children and this is expected to be circulated across the Caribbean as well the Caribbean Media Association and the Caribbean Association of Publishers and Broadcasters.
It was proposed that the code be adopted and ratified by November 20, Universal Children’s Day. In 1998, at the world’s first international conference on journalism and child’s rights in Brazil, similar guidelines were established. Among other things the media was beseeched to strive for standards and excellence in terms of accuracy and sensitivity when reporting on issues involving children. They were advised to guard against visually or otherwise identifying children, unless it is “demonstrably in the public interest.” Children’s access to the media to express their own opinions was to be guaranteed. Media practitioners also agreed to avoid sexualized images of children and to seek parental consent to interview or photograph a child.
Importantly, the media was asked to note that above all other issues and matters of interest, the rights of the child should be first and foremost.