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Archive for the ‘Ghana’ Category

The basic premise of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (referred to as the ‘CRC’) is that children are born with fundamental freedoms and the inherent rights of all human beings.

According to the CRC, the 4 main categories of rights that children have are survival, development, participation and protection. The CRC’s guiding principles help further shape the way that child rights should be interpreted. These are non-discrimination, the best interest of the child, right to life, survival and development, and respect for the views of the child.

Child protection concerns a child’s right not to be harmed and to protection from violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.  It involves the duty of care placed on those that work with children or that come into contact with children.  It encompasses the responsibilities, measures, and activities that must be undertaken to safeguard children from both intentional and unintentional harm.

Child protection encompasses many different areas, such as juvenile justice systems and a child’s right not to be tried as an adult or incarcerated with adults; special care needed by unaccompanied children; protection from sexual exploitation and dangerous forms of child labor; prevention of trafficking and harmful traditional practices such as female genital cutting; support for children in emergency and conflict situations; prevention of exploitation by the media; the right not to be abused or taken advantage of by family, caregivers or institutions; and so on.  This link gives an explanation of a protective environment, and this one offers an excellent broad overview of child protection.

Child protection policies and strategies create mechanisms to prevent any type of harm to a child.

Child protection in youth media programs

The organization where I work frames its efforts within the CRC.  Most of the programs that I focus on are related to child participation and child protection.  These two areas go hand in hand, because good participation initiatives need to take child protection into consideration, and good protection initiatives are only successful when children participate in designing them and in protecting themselves.  Children should both know what their rights are and take an active part in achieving them and in protecting themselves.

This week, for example, I’m at a workshop with a small group of colleagues, teachers and local partners from the Upper West Region of Ghana. We’re preparing for a youth arts and media project that they will implement in June. By the end of this facilitator workshop, we will have a localized training plan that fits the context of the community and the youth participants, and the facilitators will have learned some new media skills that they will train the youth on when the project starts.

As part of the facilitators’ training, we cover the CRC, going in depth on child participation and child protection.  There is always a certain tension between these two areas. We want to encourage children to participate to their fullest, yet both children and adults need to be aware of potential risks that participation can bring with it, and know how to mitigate and manage them.

Three child protection risks that we are focusing on with facilitators at this week’s workshop are:

  • Intentional or unintentional abuse by staff or local partners
  • Retaliation or harm to a child who appears in a media story or art piece on a sensitive issue
  • Retaliation or harm to a child who authors or creates media or arts on a sensitive issue

Internal child protection policies

To begin our sessions on child protection, my colleague Joyce covered our organizational Child Protection Policy, which clearly states our intention to protect children from harm and advises that we will take positive action to prevent child abusers from becoming involved with the organization.

Joyce explained that child abuse is never acceptable:

  • Child abuse in our case is defined as:  All forms of physical abuse, emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse and exploitation, neglect or negligent treatment, commercial or other exploitation of a child and includes any actions that result in actual or potential harm to a child.
  • Our child protection policy applies to staff at all levels, including board members, volunteers, community volunteers, supporters, consultants, contractors; partner organizations, local government people who have been brought into contact with children via our organization, visitors, donors, journalists, researchers and any other type of person or institution associated with us.
  • We recognize that child abuse may be a deliberate act or it may be failing to act to prevent harm. Child abuse consists of anything which individuals, institutions or processes do or fail to do, intentionally or unintentionally which harms a child or damages their prospect of safe and healthy development into adulthood.
  • We follow through on cases of child abuse to the fullest extent of the law.

Point three, unintentional abuse, refers to situations where someone has good intentions but their lack of planning, knowledge, foresight, or their recklessness puts children in harm’s way.  As Joyce explained, “It’s  like an excursion that is not well planned.”  The good intention is to take children out so that they could have some fun.  But if proper care is not taken to plan the trip and ensure children’s safety during the trip, then unintentional harm could be done. A child could be lost, a vehicle could be unsafe, a child could drown.  Though the good intention of the person planning this event is not in question — they wanted the children to have fun and enjoy themselves — if proper planning is not done and something happens that causes harm to a child, it is still considered child abuse.  Good intentions are not enough.

Here are some resources on institutional child protection standards and an excellent overview on minimum participation and protection standards when working with children and residential events.

Use of children’s images in the media

Since this is a youth arts and media project, we need to think about the use of children’s images and identities in the media: print, broadcast, radio, internet or visual arts. The CRC asserts that every child has the right to privacy, and this extends to the right not to have their image used for any purpose for which they have not given consent.

Key points related to the use of children’s images and working with children’s stories include:

  • If the person is below 18, you must seek the consent of the parents/guardians
  • Consent forms must be kept securely for future audit or proof purposes
  • A child’s real name should not be used in publication or broadcast unless they would benefit from increased self-esteem by seeing their name in print
  • The information given about the child should not allow their precise location to be identified (either directly or indirectly)
  • A story should not be published, with or without names or identities altered, if it could put a child, siblings or peers at risk
  • The best interest of the child comes above all else

Helping people see the implications

Expanding on the aspects above, Joyce offered ideas on how to discuss and ensure that children and adults that might portray others, or be portrayed in media, are aware of all the implications and potential risks:

  • Today’s media is global and can be accessed anywhere in the world through the internet.
  • When you talk to the media nowadays, you are talking to the world. The story may not reach everybody in every country, but you can be sure that it will reach further than you can imagine.
  • Ask yourself the following:
    • How would friends and family react if they saw the story, or found out that it had been published?
    • Think through who might be harmed.  Would the subject of the article, artwork or video be at risk of any harm if someone saw it?  Could this story or artwork put anyone in danger?
    • This story can stay documented for years. How would the person feel if their children were to read the story in a few years?
    • There is no guarantee that this story cannot be seen by people whom you do not want to know about it.  Help people thoroughly understand the implications of sharing their stories. This protects not only the subject of the story, but the person who is authoring the story.
    • Are there people we need to protect when telling our story? Friends that we need to protect?  What needs to be edited out so that nobody is implicated in the presentation of the work?

Here is an excellent resource on use of children’s images in the media, and a guide for journalists reporting on children, and guidelines for reporting on children in the context of HIV/AIDS.

Stories that cause unintentional harm

To illustrate some of the points above, we used 2 examples.  A New York Times/Nick Kristof article that identifies a child from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who was raped and his opinion piece on why he believes that was OK, and a scenario where a film is made of a girl who reports that her mother beats her and doesn’t allow her to attend school.

General consensus from the group in our workshop on the New York Times case was that child protection and media guidelines were not followed, and that Kristof was reckless and unintentionally put the girl at risk.  Workshop participants felt that appropriate respect for the child was not shown. “The journalist would never be able to do that in the US”.  One participant exclaimed “So, he didn’t feel that any Congolese would ever be enlightened enough to access the story?”  It was recognized that “his intention was good, that people should know about these terrible crimes, but there is no need to share all the specifics.” Participants wondered whether this was in the best interest of the girl, and how she would feel in the future if someone she knew found the article.  “In our culture, this type of thing can be very stigmatizing.”  Participants asked why technology wasn’t used to cover the girls’ face and disguise her voice, or why she wasn’t filmed from behind to conceal her identity.  The conclusion was that this story could have been told in a way that protected the child and had equal impact on readers.  [Update: Laura over at Texas in Africa has a great post on Connectivity and Child Protection which comes to the same conclusions.  You can also find related posts from awhile back on Wronging Rights.]

In the second scenario, consensus was that the story could create difficulties for everyone involved.  One participant commented that the mother might get angry and beat the child even more.  Another said that it the whole village might feel betrayed by the child exposing the story. “When a child does something, people ask – from which village are you? From which house?  From which family?  Whatever you do to a member of the village you do to the whole village. This can cause a threat to the child by the whole village.  Those who give out the story, if they are known by the village, will also be at risk.”  Another issue was that the community might say that the children are given too much power. “They will wonder who is behind it and may not wish to work any longer with the organization that is supporting the project.”  It was suggested that if a story like this were filmed, it should show a resolution, a happy ending, so that it could be used as an example. “That way you can favor all who are involved.”  The group concluded that when topics are quite sensitive or individuals are implicated, the story should be altered to protect identity and the same situation could be brought out using simulations, song, theater or drawings.

As we are training children as citizen journalists in this project, case studies that highlight the potential risks and impact of a story are critical learning tools.

In conclusion….

Child protection needs to be considered whenever children are involved.  Adults and children need to be aware of potential risks and thoroughly discuss how to mitigate them. Mechanisms need to be in place to address any intentional or unintentional harm that could be caused to a child or children.  There are plenty of good resources around on how to do this, so there is really no excuse not to.

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The Child Rights Information Network provides excellent all around resources on child protection and child rights, and a list of over 1000 global resources on child rights

Keeping Children Safe offers a toolkit for developing your organization’s internal child protection policies

The International Federation of Journalists has created Guidelines and Principles for Reporting on Issues Involving Children

Related posts on Wait… What?

Child protection, from emergency response to a sustainable mechanism

Children in emergencies: applying what we already know to the crisis in Haiti

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the road to Wa

I’m in Ghana this week for a workshop in Wa, the district capital of the Upper West Region.  I wasn’t too excited about the trip from Accra (the capital of Ghana) to Wa when I heard it was a 10-12 hour drive. I figured it took so long because the road was in bad condition, but I was wrong, it’s just a long trip and there is a lot of traffic. The road to Wa is paved.  Not with gold. Not with good intentions, just paved.  And what a difference that makes.

All kinds of vehicles and travelers use the road. Motorcycles, cars, taxis, 4x4s, Land Cruisers, big trucks, small trucks, semi trucks with trailers.  People walk and bike alongside the road.  I even saw an adolescent boy trying to rollerblade – he wasn’t getting too far in the gravel but was pretty determined regardless.

All kinds of people move in and about and around all the shops and businesses along the road… people making purchases, moving supplies, carrying firewood and water, socializing, flirting, arguing.  Vendors sell fruits, clothing, electronics, car parts, prepared food, plastics, new clothing, used t-shirts.  There are tons of stalls selling airtime  for mobile phones and entire buildings painted bright red with the white Vodafone logo on the side, not to mention doorways, sides and fronts of buildings, market stalls and taxis similarly painted.  Tigo, Glo and MTN also have their noses in the business with signs, billboards, stalls, buildings and such – obviously a lot of competition for mobile phone customers.

collision

The road holds both opportunities and dangers. Some people go very fast and others crawl along, creating accident potential as drivers try to pass them on curves and hills.  As in many countries, a good number of crashed vehicles dot the roadside; though unlike past road trips, this time I didn’t see anyone get hit or observe any bodies lying on the road after being hit, a small crowd around them, fresh blood pooling around their head and twisted frame.   Every so often on this road to Wa, there are toll booths and customs check points.  Speed bumps slow you down as you enter towns.  Police officers stop you for no reason wanting bribes. The road is really happening.

Aside from the rich and fertile rolling hills in between the towns as we got further north, the most striking thing to me was the image of the funeral crowds. You see large groups of people on both sides of the road dressed in very fine black West African clothing with accents of red: black for mourning and red if the person who passed away was strong and in their prime; sometimes white if the person was very old.  Stunning. My colleague Stephen said that funerals happen on Saturdays and that is partly why the road is so busy on weekends.  He also said that politics paved the road, because the current vice president lives in the north and made this road a priority, helping him win the elections.

While driving, we listened to a lot of political talk radio.  Obama’s honeymoon is definitely over if those who were talking are any indication. “We thought there would be a change with Obama, but his foreign policy continues along the lines of Bush.” The commentators argued for nationalization and control of Ghana and Ghana’s resources without foreign intervention and without selling off resources to foreigners, a shaking off of old colonialism.  They heavily criticized the US’s current strategy of opening military bases in West Africa and the US’s failed and reckless policies in the Middle East. References to Chile, Castro and the CIA reminded me of the kinds of conversations you hear in Latin America.  I need to read up more on this, and find out who Kosmos (Cosmos?) is, and what their relationship is with Bush, Exxon Mobile and Ghana’s oil.  [Update: here’s some background on that: Ghana blocks Exxon Oil-Field Deal.] I miss being in Central America where I knew the history of all the politicians and movements, and could read beyond fiery words to interpret motives; where I could read my own truth into things.

As we drove along I thought about the road, and all the activity that it enables. Before my flight to Accra, I visited the  Museum of Modern Art in New York with my brother who studies biology, and we saw an exhibit about Design through the Ages.  Some of the modern pieces showed graphics or moving visualizations of communication networks and systems.  One piece tracked and visualized the movement of taxis in New York City.  Another showed internet connections across the world.  My brother and I talked about our fascination with micro and macro networks and systems… synapses in the human brain, the flow of blood in the body, the New York subways, sewers.

dusk settles on the long drive north

Looking out the window of the car on our seemingly endless drive north, I thought about the similarities between this highway and the internet — road networks and communication networks.  All the people traveling down and alongside the road to Wa. The communication among and between them.  The small and large businesses that have sprung up and are prospering because the road is there allowing access.  The opportunities and dangers, the police and the periodic barriers to speed.

I’m sitting here, 12 hours north of the capital city, uploading this post, with photos even, using 3G wireless internet. Not long ago that wouldn’t have been within my capacity to imagine.

I know there is nothing new in comparing communications infrastructure and networks to a road system. But I am struck today, after the drive to Wa, with the similarities — and the vital need for both. I’m convinced that, just like the roads that provide a basis for connection, communication and commerce; Internet, via undersea cable or mobile or whatever, is essential infrastructure for development.

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Next week I’ll have the honor of (wo)manning the expo table for Plan at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Exchange [the networking event after the actual CGI meeting]. It’s Plan’s first year at the CGI, which is exciting for us as an organization. The project that we’ve committed to is a convergence of many of the things that Plan has been getting deeper and deeper into in the past few years – youth engagement, youth employment, participatory media, social media, ICTs, youth voice, youth-led advocacy, and last but not least, girl power. I’ll be supporting the project with some training around social media and ICTs based on experiences in past projects such as the Youth Empowerment through Arts and Media project.

Our commitment, Vocational Skills and Media Training for Adolescent Girls in Ghana, is a three-year project that combines job skills training for girls with media production by girls.  The combination of these two elements will give girls key skill sets for employment opportunities while also creating public platforms for girls to raise awareness and advocate on issues affecting them. Through the project 140 adolescent girls will participate in training on media production and journalism, including citizen journalism/social media.  Of those, some will go on to participate in an internship program to do hands-on work in media.  The girls will be trained on how to use diverse types of media, including traditional as well as new media, to advocate against gender discrimination.  Adult journalists will participate in Plan’s training program on child rights and gender respect in media.  In the process, the project will engage the public through radio, television and web communication around the challenges that adolescent girls face in West Africa at the community, national, and regional levels. Participating girls will also have opportunities to meet and share experiences with each other and their female Ghanaian journalist mentors.

I really like this project because it brings so many critical elements into one initiative.  More and more Plan is supporting this type of work in Africa, and it really makes a difference in the youth themselves in terms of skills, self confidence, team work, and learning how to communicate issues of importance in a confident and respectful way.  It helps them access information and new skills that help them find employment. It also has an impact on communities who see their youth in a new light and who become more open to dialogue with youth around issues that youth want to discuss but may not be able to bring up in existing forums.  The media produced by children and youth can raise awareness and encourage dialogue at the national level, and it can be presented in global meetings to bring youth voices and a dose of reality into high level discussions. It can be shared on the internet to engage and involve people in other parts of the world, and to break down stereotypes about Africans. I also think one outcome will be that the participating girls and women will contribute to modernizing the field of journalism in Ghana because they will be trained on new media tools and they will likely think seriously about how girls are portrayed by the media in the future.

Plan’s research “Because I am a Girl: The State of the World’s Girls” came out in 2007, highlighting the urgency for us to focus more programs on girls as key players.  Out of this report, a decision was made to make girls Plan’s key focus over the next several years, and the Because I am a Girl Campaign was launched.  Since then, two in depth studies have highlighted specific issues: Because I am a Girl: In the Shadow of War (2008), and Girl’s Economic Empowerment (coming out later this month).

Come by our table to say hi if you happen to be at CGI exchange!

Related posts:

On Girls and ICTs

Being a girl in Cumbana

An example of youth-led community change in Mali

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