In a country where a child is raped every 24 minutes and one is molested every eight minutes, and where 40 percent of all reported rapes are of children, it is vital to not only cover this issue substantially, but also effectively and sensitively, writes Akhona Cira in the journAIDS blog.

Perhaps a journalist’s biggest challenge when reporting on children and abuse of children is to write sensitively. Because of the media’s tendency for dramatics (editors will insist on making up the most compelling headlines), stories about child abuse often do little to help the child, with the nature of the abuse described in such gory detail that one can’t help but wonder if the motive is to shock the reader/viewer/listener.

The Media Monitoring Project, a human rights non-governaments organisation specialising in media monitoring, and the HIV/AIDS and the Media Project of the University of the Witwatersrand are just two organisations that have focused on promoting the fair and non-abusive representation of children in the media.

Last year the HIV/AIDS and the Media Project put together Zama needs to take out the burden and tell: Documenting the voices of children living with HIV, a report on a forum discussion held to improve media coverage of children affected by HIV/AIDS. (A downloadable version of this handbook can found in the Research and Events section of

Shirley Mabuse of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund pointed out in her keynote address at the forum that the media should avoid use of “stigma-loaded” terminology when referring to children who are either suffering from HIV/AIDS or affected by the disease, so as to avoid perpetuating stigma and stereotypes.

“A number of labels and terminologies have been adopted to broadly refer to children in these circumstances,” Mabuse said. “These include stigma-loaded ‘AIDS orphans’ and [the] generic ‘vulnerable children’.”

The MMP has a project called the Children in the Media Monitoring Project (CMMP) which gets together children of different ages and from different schools to comment on the media’s coverage of children’s issues. One of the outputs of this project are handbooks that aim the help journalists improve their standards in relation to reporting on children. Among the CPPM’s handbooks are, Resource Kit for Journalists: Children’s Media Mentoring Project; Reporting on Children in the Context of HIV/AIDS: A Journalist’s Resource; and What Children Want: Children’s Choices in Programming. These aim to provide journalists with information to “enable children’s voices to become a part of daily media coverage without violating children’s rights”.

The MMP is also about to release the 2006 CMMP report. In the report, several stories that demonstrate neglect and even violation of children’s rights are used in a case study. It’s certainly worth watching out for, and will no doubt be downloadable from the MMP’s website,

Both the MMP and the HIV/AIDS and the Media Project have made their research freely available on the internet. Practical tips that journalists can pick up from this research include among many others: incorporating the voices of children in articles (after consulting them carefully), protecting the identities of vulnerable children, avoiding stereotypes (such as routinely portraying children as victims), and so on.

If individual journalists took the time to read and be informed on their responsibilities when reporting on children in order to become better, more sensitive journalists, the standard of reporting on children would improve markedly. Journalists only need to do a Google search to keep themselves updated!