By Mamoletsane Khati
In a region where child marriage reigns supreme and is silently accepted by many as a “normal” practice, the media needs to take charge and correct misconceptions.
And that is exactly what journalists from four Southern Africa countries are doing after receiving support from regional communication for development organization Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf).
Child marriage is a stumbling block to the realization of the vision of a Southern Africa community that drives its own development. In addition to violating the rights of girls and boys, child marriage also represents the most prevalent form of sexual abuse and exploitation of children. Child marriage is a direct form of discrimination against the child, who, as a result of the practice, is often deprived of basic rights to health, education, development and equality.
With funding from Plan International, PSAf is supporting journalists and media houses from Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe to develop in-depth content that would generate debate and inspire action to end child marriages.
In December, PSAf conducted a regional media training which brought together journalists and media trainers from the four countries. The training provided the journalists a platform to share experiences and to strengthen the journalists understanding of the issues, and put them in a better position to report on the issues. This in recognition of the critical role that the media can play to create and raise awareness, influence behaviour change and influence policy change around issues of child marriages and possible solutions to the problems and as thus improve social transformation.
Discussions and presentations at the media training showed that the drivers of child marriage in Southern Africa are complex and interrelated. Poverty is the main driver of child marriages in southern Africa. It forces families to marry their daughters at a young age as a way of improving the economic status of the family. Poverty is also believed to compel girls, particularly orphans, to get married with a hope of leading a better life.
Journalists have shared testimonies of how the training and fellowships provided them with skills on how to angle and package stories to bring out the different factors surrounding child marriages.
Building on the foundation laid during the training, some of the journalists enrolled for a PSAf media fellowship programme. Under the fellowships, the journalists are now producing in-depth features and radio programmes on child marriage. Unlike the usual tendency of tackling child marriage as “one of those issues”, the training empowered journalists to report on child marriages in an in-depth and effective way that would influence legal and policy reforms.
The media has the ability to inform the public and to shape a person’s view of the world they live in. Through the media, we are able to determine what is acceptable and what is not. Therefore the media can either positively or negatively influence the public opinion on child marriage. The media also has the power to determine what news is and to construct stories and select words in ways that affect people. When they provide a more in-depth and well investigated analysis of the issues, they can be able to show different perspectives and contribute to public awareness. This therefore means that a well-informed citizenry, leads to participation in issues of development. The public can even be aware of the services they were not aware of and to assert their rights.
Stimulated journalistic or professional interest have already induced debates and discussions around the social, cultural and legal drivers of child marriages. The discussions have raised awareness that challenges attitudes and cultural practices that fuel child marriages.
Mamoletsane Khati is PSAf Regional Programme Manager for Health and Development. For feedback, email firstname.lastname@example.org.