Plan International attempted to define disaster as a serious disruption of the functioning of a community or society that causes widespread human, material, economic or environmental losses and above all, which exceeds the ability of the affected community to cope using its own resources.
Disaster risk reduction, according to Edward Sesay, Disaster and Risk Advisor of Plan International, is the systematic development and application of policies, strategies and practices to minimize vulnerabilities, hazards and the unfolding of disaster impacts throughout a society, in a broad context of sustainable development. Disaster risk reduction reduces the impact and or preventing disaster, strengthening society’s capacity to cope with the effects of a disaster and perhaps, above all promotes development.
Disaster are developmental issues and as stated by Plan International during training for journalist from Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ghana and Cameroon, the highest impact of disaster is often seen in countries with a low Human Development Index since underdevelopment makes them more vulnerable. Many believe that disaster is not natural but that, its occurrence is as a result of hazards like storm, landslide cyclone etc.
Most disasters are a function of the risk process which results from the combination of hazards, conditions of vulnerability and the lack of capacity to reduce the effect of risk. And when one attempts to look at the adverse effects of disaster, it is true that it reduces the result of development investment on a short time and as a result remains a major impediment to developing countries. Again, it diverts the important resources from development activities and it also deprives poor people and nations the resources needed for their development.
The United Nations Child Rights Convention grants at least 38 rights to children including the right to special protection measures and help, access to services such as education and health care and the right to be informed and participate in achieving their rights in an accessible and active manner.
Again, it is true that when disasters occur, there are a lot of bad effects on the right of the child as stated in the Child Rights Convention. Thus, there is the greater need for such disasters to be reduced, if not completely prevented, and in this move, the Media has its role to perform.
In times of disaster, children and the aged are the most affected people, they also become the most susceptible and they also have the least capacity to cope.
Mindful of this fact that, children are mostly affected during disaster, they therefore have a considerable strength, a resource for families and they also have a greater capability to learn and adapt to new things, and they have the capacity to act on issues that affect them. Shifting policy away from active disaster management to more proactive capacity building can reduce inequality. Disaster preparedness and management are all potential factors of reducing vulnerability
If Media practitioners agree that children and the aged are mostly affected during disaster prone issues, then they must be seen actively playing its role in the reduction of disaster related issues and as such, journalists must take the responsibility to elucidate the vast difference between the people’s afflictions and their peaceful development.
Guidelines and principles for reporting on issues involving children, presented by the International Federation of Journalists at the 2nd World Congress against Commercial Exploitation of Children held at Yokohama, Japan, in December 2001 states that, media practitioners must be aware “of the need to protect children and to enhance their rights without in anyway damaging freedom of expression or interfering with the fabric of journalistic independence …” In essence, we must be seen portraying issues of children as they relate to disaster and giving voice to children to talk on such issues, because they are also capable of participating in disaster risk reduction and “they are a powerful means to communicate messages on disaster risk reduction” [courtesy, Plan International, Sierra Leone branch]
Newspaper houses and even radio stations must create the enabling environment for children to be discussing issues that relate to them, with particular reference to disaster risk reduction. Columns must be provided for children and airtime be given on radio stations to children for such discourse.
Article 17 of the Convention on the Right of the Child states that, state parties should recognize the important function “performed by the mass media and shall ensure that, the child has access to information and material from a diversity of national and international sources ….” It further states that, state parties shall encourage “the mass media to disseminate information and materials of social and cultural benefit to the child…” This article clearly states the role of the media for the development of the child.
The right to freedom of expression as even stated by our national constitution, is important but must be weighed against other rights and that of the child’s right to freedom from fear and exploitation. It is no gain saying that, awareness raising on child rights among media people increases the cooperation with other actors such as Non Governmental Organizations.
Referring you to article 7 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, it is true that, “every child who is capable of communicating his or her own views shall be assured the rights to express his opinions freely on all matters and to disseminate his opinions subject to such subjects as restricted by law” and in actuality this can only be made actual by the media.
Let us take child prostitution as a case study. The United Nations International Children’s Education Fund estimates that a million children a year are recruited into commercial sex trade in the developing and developed world. “A UNICEF investigation into the sexual exploitation of children- Profiting from abuse- shows how poverty and dislocated communities are the highest risk factors” [courtesy; Putting Children in the Right]. This could be a disaster for children and as journalists; we have a role in reducing that. We have an outstanding role in revealing and explaining facts and causes of the increase in prostitution and perhaps, taking child prostitution as a case study.
Also, the media must report on common forms of abuse and even call the attention of the general public on the risk of their children being abused. We should be seen opening up debates on such issues and call on stakeholders to play their respective roles in the reduction of disaster as related to the child.
There should be collaboration between the media and organizations that deal with children like Plan International, Care, and Handicap International among others efforts for the betterment of the child, for the children will be our leaders in the next 24 hours. They must be cared for. By John Baimba Sesay