The annual “Media and Child Rights’ seminar conducted virtually on January 27, 2021 by the Asian College of Journalism and UNICEF, touched on the topics of gender-sensitive reporting on children, and experiences of communicating with children during the pandemic.
The panel discussion on ‘Reporting on children from a gender lens: Ethics and guidelines for journalists’’, was moderated by Kavita Chowdhury, Independent Journalist and Adjunct Faculty at the Asian College of Journalism. The panel addressed the shortcomings of the mainstream media in covering issues related to children from a gender-sensitive lens.
Moderator Kavita Chowdhury noted that reporters should be sensitized to the nuances of reporting on children’s issues and must also be aware of the UNCRC and other legislations related to children. Ashwaq Masoodi reflected on the sensationalism in reporting issues such as the Juvenile Justice system and explored the idea of ‘childhood as a social construct largely decided by adults.’ Kavitha Muralidharan, an independent journalist, spoke of persisting problems such as stigmatization during menstruation, and female infanticide and foeticide, in the society. Pooja Nair, a psychotherapist, elaborated the understanding of employing a ‘gender lens’, with respect to children, by linking it to concepts of power and inequality. She noted that ‘engendering is a huge part of engagement with children’. She reflected on whether as a society, we consider the voices of children as ‘legitimate and capable’ and called for more agency for children in self-identification and self-determination. She also touched upon the violence associated with ‘gender policing’ to ‘correct’ children who do not conform to heteronormative ideas of gender.
The second panel discussion on ‘Communicating with children during emergencies: Experiences from the COVID-19 pandemic’ touched upon crucial aspects of communications with children such as online learning, mental health issues, and child protection issues during the pandemic. Ramya Kannan, Chief of Bureau, Tamil Nadu, The Hindu, opened the discussion by noting that ‘we seldom talk to children, but write about them often.’ Sonal Kapoor, Founder Director of Protsahan India Foundation, highlighted the different vulnerabilities faced by children from marginalized backgrounds during the pandemic, while lauding the work of child helpline ‘Childline’ in reaching out to children in distress. She emphasized that as adults it was time ‘we passed on the mic to children’ and stopped dismissing their opinions.
Nandini Raman, Consultant Counsellor, spoke of the mental health challenges associated with the pandemic, including increasing abuse within family spaces, fraying relationships, physiological growth among adolescents, and increase in online/screen time for leisure and learning. S. Gomathi, Director, AhaGuru, emphasized on the need for appropriate pedagogy to teach in the online space, noting that the sudden shift to online learning by schools was not effective as ‘most schools did not have the resources to do so.’ She also shared her experiences of working with children in rural areas during the pandemic, noting that access and adequate resources for education were absent for them. Through her work at AhaGuru, she felt that, ‘technology did open up ways to reach out to children in remote areas during the pandemic.’