When it comes to children and the need to protect them, many are willing to jump through hoops to defend the rights of these lovely human beings that are vulnerable. The need is so much more when it comes to children with disabilities.
Revelations last month, through simultaneous broadcasts and publishing of investigative reports about abuse in private centres that house children with disabilities, produced fabulous results. Starting with His Majesty the King down to the government and the respective ministries, as well as NGOs and activists, all agreed on the need for substantive change.
Change, of course, should not be limited to one area. A revolution is needed in the way government laws and regulatory procedures handle this important group. Similar major change is needed in the way society itself handles such a sensitive issue.
A seminar held in East Amman on June 5 by the Jordanian Network of Professionals to Protect Children from Violence, in coordination with the Jordan River Foundation, discussed the role of media; the seminar spoke about the need for a holistic approach to the problems facing Jordanian children.
Abeer Najar, dean of the Jordan Media Institute, talked about the need to forge a new culture that respects children and their rights. She said that when it comes to children’s topics, Jordanian media focus on news rather than dealing with the issues in depth.
I outlined the need for a strategic approach to media and society. If we really believe that the media can have a role in changing behavior, then this belief must be translated into policies, programs, legislation, decisions regarding personnel and budgets.
Journalists need to become sensitized to children’s issues. They need to be aware that one cannot print pictures of abused children without permission and children are not to be used to increase sales. Journalists specialising in children issues need to be supported, respected and recognized, perhaps through an annual award focused on good journalism in the defense of children. We need to create and nurture real champions of children’s rights in order to begin the process of change.
But while focusing on journalists and improving their level of professionalism is important, it is only one piece of a big puzzle. Media managers, editors and owners must also be approached and encouraged to give more time and space to children’s issues.
They need to allow their journalists enough time to develop and research good reports that address specific areas concerning children.
Companies working in Jordan, where the majority of the population is young, must dedicate part of their corporate social responsibility to media coverage of the little ones.
Politicians can also make great contributions in this regard. Laws and regulations can be passed that require, say, the national television station to dedicate a percentage of its resources and air time to issues dealing with children.
Government ministries must be required to allocate a minimum percentage of their annual budgets to ensure protection of children. Ministries such as health, education, social affairs, waqf and religious affairs, culture, labor and the newly created women’s affairs need to play a role in issues dealing with children.
Allocating resources for children’s issues, however, must not be translated into politicians and government officials trading niceties about how great their programs are. Such programs must address real issues in an honest and direct way. Money should be used also for public service announcements and the creation of drama programs. Pop culture should also work to change society which, in its majority, does not have much respect for children and their rights.
Creating such a holistic media approach is a daunting effort that no single person or group can undertake. The efforts of Their Majesties the King and the Queen in this regard are a great start, but this effort from the top needs regular follow up and constant revisiting so that the attempts to effect real changes in behavior do not fall away once the initial efforts effects have died down.
The media can be a major player in such efforts, but they cannot and should not be expected to carry the burden alone. A holistic approach requires all other sectors of society working together so that tangible change in the way we deal with the children can be seen.
The writer is a prominent columnist. The article was published in the Jordan Times on June 6, 2012