Ronald Colbert and Carril Desrosiers 1
The Haitian society still has far to go in encouraging, in the media, the expression of children, the adults of tomorrow. The involvement of children in the media and the ideas that they can convey would play a vital role in the sustainable development process of Haiti.
This was found by a documentary study conducted by the Panos Institute( 2) during the first half of the year 2000, focusing on the participation of children in the media.
In their programming, many media devote a special place to children. However, most of the content inserted seems yenyen (3): without any emphasis on the child’s contribution as a human being in its own right, endowed with its own intelligence and personality, and in a quest for true social changes. Also daily news programmes do not take account of the opinions of children about the realities around them.
” When covering child rights issues, one often has to consider the role of a child’s right to communication, its right to leisure, and the level of facilitation of children’s voices in the media,” Joseph George says, Director of Sosyete Animasyon Kominikasyon Sosyal (SAKS) (Society for Facilitating Social Communication), a Haitian institution supporting community media in this Caribbean republic.
Confronted with an international movement which promotes ideas for change, in particular the universal respect of human rights including the rights of women and of children, the countries of the region find themselves in an almost permanent conflict between the Right to Expression and the Prohibition of Expression.
Also the child must fight to overcome this paradox which is opposed to its natural tendency to innocently share its feelings with the people around. Moreover, it must conquer the right to communication, an inborn right that it will attempt to develop and exercise freely within available means.
In Haiti there is a set of media programmes devoted to child issues since the end of the 1970s. These seem to convey traditional perceptions about what a child can or must do or not do. A rather authoritarian culture is being extended, where the child is not entitled to any rights. The programmes reveal modes of repressive behaviour in the relations between adults and children: the latter age group is viewed as an inferior category, often reduced to the level of animals without free will, and only subject to orders given by grown-ups.
“In these programmes one does not meet children who express their future aspirations on what should happen in the country. These programmes consider the children almost as beings with no power to discern, neither to express themselves: the children recite a poem or sing a song; they only get the opportunity to joke and play,” Monique Clesca states, head of the Haitian communication firm “MC CONSEILS.”
Having worked for several years in the Communication Section of the Haitian branch of United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), Monique Clesca advocates a more participatory approach, which takes into account the child’s right to speech, expression and comment.
The child’s point of view
Most of the children who were interviewed for this study, express the need for media to insert in their programming space for documenting animals, history and general geography. Moreover poems, stories, jokes, cartoons, educative games and cultural broadcasts (music, theatre) should be included. They also wish for the broadcasting of more movies about child themes, and less movies showing hard and violent images (murder, massacre, drugs, delinquency, etc) which could induce children to imitate this on each other.
Over-all, children favour the broadcasting of programmes which are likely to encourage children to work towards their future and to stimulate their understanding of their country’s realities, without any prejudice of gender nor social group. As such, they ask parents to show more tolerance and allow them to follow those programmes which please children.
Stephane,12 years old, who lives in the suburb of Carrefour-Feuilles in the South-East section of the Haitian Capital, suggests that the Government should manage a large green recreational area where children can freely get together, away from their parents’ presence. The games that they would develop there could then be broadcast in the media, especially on television.
Junior, 12 years, resident in Cote-plage (Carrefour) in the South of Port-au-Prince, dreams about participating in a broadcast devoted to children. He declares to grasp nothing from the various radio broadcasts of the capital city and urges children to get involved in children’s shows in order to combat their shyness and to be more self-assertive.
In this context, Fedja, 9 years old, explains how her involvement in the broadcast “Gaieté Enfantine” (children’s cheer) on Radio Lumiere has taught her how to sing together and to live in harmony with other children.
Yvenante, 12 years old, states that her participation in the broadcast Kach Kach Liben of the community radio station “Radyo Vwa Klodi Mizo” of Les Cayes (in the South of Haiti) has enabled her to see her dream come true: To put her voice on the radio and participate in radio plays. Yvenante does not hide the fact that she likes “nice video clips and interesting movies” to be broadcast (she does not specify the nature nor type), played by great actors.
Jean Nathel, 11 years old, says that, in his opinion, it is important to enable a greater number of children to participate in advertising spots and movies in order to stimulate their creativity and to make them friendlier.
An opposite viewpoint is communicated by Jocelyn (alias Ti Dye), 11 years, originally from Cité Soleil (a vast agglomeration of over 300 thousand inhabitants on the northern exit of the Capital). He calls the fact that businessmen use children for publicity on their products savage exploitation. He mentions a few cases among his friends who, after having lent their voices for advertisement messages, did not receive any reasonable compensation.
Michenard and Paul Evans, respectively 14 and 15 years old, believe that the Haitian media do not give much importance to children. According to them radio and television, which for 50% of the people in Haiti is a source of entertainment, excessively prioritize news and political events.
Coucou, 9 years old, tempers this position by stating that children must pay attention to all kinds of news, in order to be informed about what takes place and problems that inflame society. In this way they learn to answer many questions, including those of official exams, and can better participate in debate among children of their age.
Maite, 8 years old, tells that she is attracted to entertainment programmes, such as the cartoons shown on TV. But with regard to selecting themes, she invites the media to think about disadvantaged areas such as Cité Soleil.
Tania, age 14, thinks that various types of information may be promoted by child viewers, such as educational broadcasts. These provide people with beneficial advice and instructions relating, among others, to environmental protection or the conservation of national heritage. Broadcasts which are produced in French categorically leave out the illiterates of the country, according to Tania. She calls attention to the disinterest or even a refusal of media to raise certain topics, such as the colour prejudice or social discrimination, both of which are very strong in Haiti.
In this context, Fabiola, 14 years old, believes that the media should emphasize the high level of sexual harassment which victimizes Haitian girls. They also should provide language and literacy classes. While recognizing that broadcasting movies and cartoons in English could facilitate learning this foreign language, Fabiola underlines that it would be better to broadcast them in Creole or French.
A matter of education
It would seem contradictory to give the floor in the media to children: the education system which is in force in Haiti, as well as in many other countries of the Caribbean, does not value the child, nor gives it the right to speak, nor encourages its involvement.
The problems to convey this message, even within a programme conceived by children, indicates a confrontation with the grown-ups. Therefore, at present, children’s voices in the media should aim for educating adults on sharing between parents and children, Joseph Georges notes.
The reality is such, in Haiti as well as in other countries of the Caribbean, that the majority of adults find themselves, just like children, excluded from a number of activities in society as well as from participation in the media.
“A lack of independence and self-direction in the children of poor families may simply be an appropriate social response to their parents, who have little freedom themselves in their daily lives. Also, poor parents may feel that they do not have the time nor patience to support their children’s spontaneous activities. As such, children from those backgrounds see examples in their daily lives which support what they are learning from their parents about not speaking out.” (UNICEF, Innocenti Essays, No. 4)
This situation where a great part of the population does not exercise any right, affects children in particular.
First of all, Georges states, besides not being able to attend school, the child experiences all the world’s problems in its survival in the Haitian environment.
When survival is the goal, attending school is but a chance and not a right. The child who manages to go to school often does neither know how to find books and learning manuals, nor how his future will be. Children’s expression, recognized as a right in Kindergarten, is cut completely in elementary school, where the child is to some extent repressed and frustrated.
“We are living in a country where the misery is so pervasive that many mothers are forced to put their children into domesticity. The promise is that the people who take charge will educate these children. However, more often than not, these persons will make them suffer more misery,” Georges adds.
Traumatized by domesticity, such children will never talk in the media about joy, but rather about a great deal of suffering: whippings, beatings, hardships, misunderstandings, various punishments and lack of memory. This is shown on the faces of numerous children. All children, rich or poor, know how to be sad: they will always have these feelings.
For these reasons as well as for pedagogical motives, the message of a child to other children through the media will be well understood, especially through the radio. The extent of and limits for children’s participation in the media specifically depends on their managers.
“Parents who call the truths that their children throw them in the face “rudeness,” may hear children on the radio, telling them that such a behaviour is reprehensible towards their rights as children as complete human beings. This will produce other effects,” the director of SAKS says. According to him, such an approach will enable children to start a process of dialogue with the parents.
This type of pedagogical environment, which insists on the autonomy of the child and recognizes it as a complete human being, instills from an early age a desire in the child to learn how to express itself, how to work in a team with other children and how to present an opinion.
Where and how to begin ?
“Since the 1970s, most of the media in Haiti have had children’s programmes. This was not an innovation. The problem was and above all still remains the way the subject is treated, the vision which emanates through these programmes and the format of the involvement of children in a structural manner,” Monique Clesca explains.
The media have been forerunners of change in society, in Haiti as well as in other countries that have suffered dictatorship. Why can’t they play this role once again? They did so during the campaign “Timoun se moun” (children are people) by broadcasting spots with the voices of children. As vehicle for democratic change, why can’t the media continue to work with children, in spite of contradictions in the educational system?
The head of MC Conseils believes that children (0-17 years), which represent 47% of the population of Haiti (4), should be allowed to express themselves on talk shows and news programmes. They should also be enabled to produce journalistic reports. May the children question the candidates for elective offices ! May they touch many themes and subjects without discrimination!
Attorney Bethie Casty, Information Assistant at the Haiti branch of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), thinks that the participation of children in the media is valuable at two levels: (1) participation as managers in the conception of programmes; and (2) participation in the implementation of children’s programmes, especially those meant to promote the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
“Talking about children in the media is equal to promoting the right to children to express themselves. Also, there may be broadcasts, organized by children and supervised by adults. Due to their immaturity, children need to be protected and accompanied, but one should give them the opportunity to experiment, the time to act; one should orient them and correct them when needed, and not impose modes of behaviour, as is practiced by us.”
Stephanie Conrad, of Plan Haiti, invites the media which have programmes targeted on children and conceived by adults, to change their practices by allowing children to take part in decision-making.
“Generally, children have an enormous aptitude for being integrated in the media. It is preferable that one leaves them free to reveal themselves as the managers of their own programmes.”
One may question what is a correct and reasonable pay for the children who produce and present programmes. This is a legitimate demand according to Monique Clesca who believes that the way of managing the funds collected depends on the specific child and the responsibility of its parents.
Roody Thelemaque, a social worker in Haiti, recalls that the participation of children in advertising spots on an unpaid basis, is contrary to the spirit of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
A street child in Petion-Ville, east of the Haitian capital, had at one time the intention to sue a local as well as an international institution, which published his picture on a flyer without his consent or any payment.
However, in what other ways and to what extent can the child be given the floor?
Considering age groups
Normally, one should consider all minors to be children, i.e. everyone less than 18 years old, as is stipulated by the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Nevertheless, while admitting a civil status to children between 0 and 18 years old, the Haitian legislation indicates that from 16 years of age, children may be held criminally responsible. This approach has been contested by those promoting children’s rights, underlines attorney Bethie Casty.
However, the approach depends on the goals pursued and the target group, states attorney Casty. Specific language corresponds to each age group.
A broadcast for the age group 0-4 years old focuses, as a matter of fact, on the mothers, for instance to promote breast-feeding and specific care for preventing infections in children. From 6 years old, the child starts expressing itself, understanding better, and beginning to ask questions, she adds.
Joseph Georges of SAKS indicates that by age 5 or 6, the intelligence of children is developed enough to start communicating, not only with their age peers but also with their parents.
“Just look at the skills of children in kindergarten and in pre-school, particularly on the occasions of graduation days where they do play roles as actors. The children introduce the ceremonies, recite poems, sing, play theatre, play the piano or trumpet, or sound the drums. Precisely because this is an age when they play, but when they also contribute to conveying messages,” he underlines.
For Monique Clesca, the age group most interesting for establishing a children’s dialogue in the media is between 9 and 13. The child learns a lot during this period, which coincides with its transformation into adolescence. He/she begins to recognize his/her personality, and articulate a vision with regard to society.
Matthew Frey of Save the Children U.S.A. warns against the targeting of a specific age group. Whatever its age, each child must be integrated in the sustainable development process, with respect to the needs and priorities of children. Only babies, he says, are not able to participate in children’s programmes in the media, because they as yet have not reached a sufficiently advanced linguistic and cognitive level.
Recognizing that younger children can also contribute to the development and implementation of radio and television programmes and produce journalistic reports, Stephanie Conrad of Plan Haiti deems it easier to work with children of 11-18 years old, because they already have adequate linguistic capacity.
Language and content
National and international experts are unanimous in their recognition that educators of all countries have the urgent obligation to use the mother tongues of those being educated in order to ensure the learning process.(5)
Various hosts at community radio stations, as well as representatives of the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) concerned, questioned within the scope of this briefing, advocate that programmes should be presented in Creole. Being the language of the majorities in bilingual countries of the region, such as Haiti and Saint Lucia, Creole should be valued by the media. In general these have failed to realize that the small minority which is capable of expressing themselves in foreign languages is usually found in the centres of power.
According to them, broadcasts for children, done in a foreign language which the majority of them do not command, do categorically leave out most children and constitute a major handicap to their development, particularly those who are disadvantaged.
Moreover, the contents of stories for children’s programmes should be based on documentation, studies and such international texts as the Universal Declaration of the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Beijing Guidelines on the Procedures for Justice of Minors, Attorney Bethie Casty recommends.
Images conveyed by the media
Media support is an indispensable means for children to take advantage of scientific progress and the multiple technological inventions (such as the Internet) which ban borders and distance between countries. However, the images conveyed by the media are often too much tainted by violence and eroticism. Very often forgotten because of ever present political events, children are in the middle of a systematic degradation of customs and values, Richard Widmaier said, Director of the private Haitian Radio Station, Radio Metropole.
Instead of broadcasting reports which are conform the knowledge and skills of children and stimulate the growth of their talent and potential, encourage them to think and be more autonomous and critical towards society, the media generally project images which impose certain kinds of behaviour on children: they are made to submit themselves to or repeat notions which often they do not understand, Stephanie Conrad of Plan Haiti and Jean Claude Thouin of Save the Children Canada stated.
“The use of children as a commercial selling technique is a form of exploitation opposed to the principles defined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The promotion of a product through a child may create frustration in other children, who may feel like having this product, even if it may be awfully harmful to their health or to their individual development. For example, violent electronic games are in great demand by children who have seen or heard a commercial done by children.”
Joseph Georges holds the apathy of society responsible for the increase in the number of criminal offenders and of a daily reality of anti-values. On Haiti’s television stations, there are no movies, nor programmes for children in the age group 4-9 years. And even the cartoons and comics (called Ti Komik) convey brutality.
Deprived of funding for educational children’s movies, the current movies keep communicating the same approach and do not contribute to the development of children’s sensitivity towards, for example, the wonders of nature, the struggle on behalf of protecting the environment and other natural surroundings. Also, under the pretext of modernization, other spots with children in it, aim to turn off mothers (mainly the poor ones) from the richness of breast-feeding and impose the use of milk powder and feeding bottles.
The media in Haiti, which sometimes seems grocery stores, should dedicate a greater part of their programming to educational purposes, following the example of numerous countries of Latin America. Here a good percentage of educational programming has greatly contributed to combat under-development, opposite to Haiti or the English-speaking islands of the Caribbean.
The contribution by journalists and specialists
Haiti does not have many specialized journalists. Journalists who specialize on children’s issues are lacking. Specialization requires concentration on critical issues and sensitive children’s issues, their documentation and research. There are important psychological and legal dimensions.
“Once a subject has been documented and provided with arguments, the journalist needs to determine his broadcast plan. There are many subtleties such as in covering the cases of minors in conflict with the law, where one has to understand why a criminal child cannot be sentenced in the same way as a criminal adult. Even lawyers do not master all the judicial procedures for minors, whose application, although incorporated in Haitian legislation since 1961, has only begun after 1994, the year of Haiti’s ratification of the Convention on the Right of the Child,” Bethie Casty comments.
Specific requirements and training should be established for journalists intending to work on the theme “CHILD.” One must beware not to manipulate children who often present affective behaviour, which is hard to understand, Plan Haiti recommends.
Without leaving out the indispensable support of parents, Stephanie Conrad pleads for the involvement of specialists, which should be hired by the media to work with children. In this way, radio, which reaches a diversified and large audience, and television would be better able to carry messages relative to children’s rights.
A Haitian centre which supports media and journalists, “Info-Services” has convened in collaboration with UNICEF-Haiti, from 1995 to 1997, several training sessions on the theme “Child” (as well as mothers and the family in general) for journalists of the written, spoken and visual press, coming from various parts of the country.
|Journalistic Standards for Reporting on Issues Involving Children The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is developing guidelines for reporting on issues involving children, through an extensive survey of codes of conduct and standards already in force across the world. The draft guidelines and principles include:
- Maintain the highest ethical and professional standards and promote the widest possible dissemination of information about the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
- Violation of children’s rights and issues of children’s safety, education, health, social welfare and exploitation are important questions for investigations and public debate.
- Appreciate the vulnerable situation of children in all journalistic activity.
- Strive for the highest accuracy and sensitivity; avoid stereotypes or sensational presentation; assess consequences of publishing information on children; guard against unnecessary identification; assist children to express their opinions; obtain independent verification of information provided by children without putting child informants at risk; avoid use of sexualized images of children; use fair methods for obtaining pictures; verify the credentials of organizations purporting to speak for or to represent the interests of children.
Everywhere in Latin America and the Caribbean there are media programmes for children, presented by children who learn to conduct interviews. In this way, children are given the tools to practice communication.
It should be underlined that since community media were established in Haiti, at the beginning of the 1990s, many more children from poor social backgrounds have gotten access to radio. Traditionally, only privileged children had an opportunity to participate in a few programmes broadcast by private radio and television stations in the capital. Public radio and TV stations have up to now hardly included children in their programming.
Although there is considerable recent media work around the concept for and by children or the theme “Child,” there is still a lack of awareness in the media on child rights and of the duty to dedicate space for exercising these rights. Much space intended for children appears cosmetic, with as only purpose to achieve a more diversified programming.
“In the reality of slavery and of restaveks (child domestics), what is done in the media seems insufficient and meaningless. Some television stations dedicate so much space to children’s entertainment that they bring about a complete elimination of the rights of the child. There is no debate among children on the rights of the child, neither between children and society on political or environmental realities,” Joseph Georges denounces.
The media remain an ideal vehicle to guarantee the rights of the child, according to Raoul Denis Jr. of the broadcast Ribambelle on the private television station Telemax. Judging initiatives such as Ribambelle, Le Petit Nouvelliste and Ti Jounal mwen (6) as largely insufficient, Raoul Denis Jr. thinks that the Haitian media do really not have the vocation to stimulate children to know more about how to live with their environment or to promote civic education.
“The audiovisual media do not practice self censure to any extent. They broadcast any type of movie at any time without pre-advising the audience about the contents. Children absorb violence and may imitate it on their friends. The country must first of all find its political and economical stability and have an efficient parliament for passing adequate legislation concerning the fundamental rights to education, entertainment, food or healthcare,” the presenter of the show Ribambelle wishes.
Cartoons that do not correspond to the general vision of the station are censored in Ribambelle, conforming to continuous suggestions of school headmasters and teachers. According to them many of the images put on television are likely to influence children negatively.
The view rating of Ribambelle (about 2,000 viewers) makes one believe that it is mainly watched by the people of Port-au-Prince, Raoul Denis Jr. says. He is satisfied with Telemax’ efforts not to broadcast images harmful to children.
Richard Widmaier declares that Radio Metropole has decided to arrange time for children who, according to him, have gotten much to say and want to make their fundamental rights known to adults.
“The children who present the show demonstrate a lot of interest for the Convention on the Right of the Child and frequently ask me questions relevant to that issue. To satisfy them, I recommend them to pick an article from the convention for each show and discuss it. The children in the audience support this fully,” Widmaier says.
The Director of Radio Metropole plans to expand the concept of the programme by integrating other specific areas such as sports and theatre. He collaborates directly with UNICEF, which regularly provides the station with brochures and documents relating to the rights of the child. The private sector, who provide financial support to the programme, are satisfied because the promotion of their products is done without any difficulty, Richard Widmaier discloses.
The station Radio Lumiere of the Baptist Evangelical Mission of the South of Haiti (MEBSH) has also air time for children, called Gaieté enfantine (children’s joy), broadcast every Saturday from 9:00 am. This show aims to be educational and entertaining and not only focuses on the articles of the Convention on the Right of the Child, but also on the Bible as the most powerful weapon of Christians, according to the co-presenters Mrs. Robenson Joseph and Sylvie Merisier.
Gaieté Enfantine is the country’s oldest radio programme for children and is heard almost everywhere in Haiti by a mixed audience of adults and children. It has contributed to the training of many stars and professionals. It is divided in two parts: the first part is produced and presented by children and the second part is conducted by the two CO-presenters
The participants in the programme say that they promote elements that strengthen their faith and develop a moral attitude, based on the respect of the Word of God. This is the case for Jean-Tho Gerilus, 17 years old, born in Fonds-Parisien (about 40 kms North-East of Port-au-Prince) and director of the children choir named “Les Enfants de Dieu” (The Children of God).
Radio Timoun (Radio Child) and TeleTimoun, stations founded by the former President of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, aim to promote, on a large scale, the participation of children in their information and news programmes. These two media are the only ones in Haiti which are exclusively dedicated to children. Children present and produce various broadcasts.
Radio Timoun started in 1996 with the street children of Lafanmi Selavi, an orphanage sponsored by Aristide. It broadcasts 14 hours per day. TeleTimoun, which was inaugurated in 1999, broadcasts according to a daily schedule with variety shows and documentaries alternating, and news programmes presented and produced by child reporters (girls and boys), among them some correspondents from the provinces.
Radio Timoun and Tele Timoun represents an important opportunity for those street children and child domestics who want to have their voices heard in society and to have access to social advancement, an ex-presenter (11 years old) at radio Timoun observes.
Despite the confirmation of several appointments with the managers at Radio Timoun and TeleTimoun, the Panos Institute has not been able to obtain precise information directly from these two stations within the framework of this documentary study.
Community radio stations also have programmes for children which, in many cases, prove to be the most popular within their programming. There are certain periods during the year, such as around Mother’s day at the end of May, when these stations carry interactive communication between children and parents.
In some areas, children are responsible for preparing the texts to be broadcast on community radios, for wishing their mothers a Happy Mother’s Day. Elsewhere, the community radio stations broadcast old songs which would be forgotten if there were no children programmes.
Pascale Pierre at radio Vwa Peyizan Sid (Farmer’s Voice of the South), a station located at Pliche near the community of Cavaillon in the South of Haiti, explains how Pwogram timoun of VPS has been adapting itself, since 1995, based on criticism and suggestions from the audience.
“Children in this region continually urge their parents to purchase spare batteries in order to listen to the programme every Sunday. The appreciation is such high that even children from the island of La Gonave often prepare stories on their situation which they send to the station. These radio programmes are really vital and enable children to know one another.”
With its slogan “Another Communication for another society,” the community station Radyo Vwa Klodi Mizo (RVCM) of Les Cayes intends to prioritize the stipulations of the Convention on the Right of the Child, within the framework of a specific show entitled Kach Kach Liben. This name has been derived from the indigenous name of a children’s game well-known in Haiti (7).
All children, whichever be their social or religious background, have access to this programme and can enjoy themselves and express their opinions in it. In this way the media help children to assume their responsibilities, participate in the social life of the country and become more self-reliant, according to Pierre Renel Moise, a presenter of Kach Kach Liben who intends to explain children the spirit and the contents of the legislation designed to protect them.
Espwa demen (Hope for tomorrow) is the title of a children’s programme on the community station Zeb Ginen (Guinea grass), located on the heights of Puilboreau in the North of Haiti. Born out of the axiom “the children of today will be the adults of tomorrow,” the broadcast attempts to eliminate all barriers to the participation of children.
Lequilson Charles of Zeb Ginen informs that Espwa demen, which is broadcast on Sundays, contains both a theoretical part, dedicated to pedagogical aspects (appropriate formats for working with children), and a practical part, during which children tell their experiences. The only problem encountered up to now is that some parents do not appreciate the fact that principles relating to the rights of the child are raised in the programme. Other parents complain that they are confronted with such economical hardship that they are not able to purchase a radio receiver.
The radio programme Timoun se Moun (Children are human beings) of the community station Radyo Lakay of Saint-Louis du Sud, focuses on the development of the child, from its conception in the womb to the various stages of its growth towards a complete man or woman. Radyo Lakay also tries to induce people to think about the kind of training that children need to effectively participate in the programme, especially regarding themes covered, Osny Agenor of Radio Lakay states.
“As with other community stations in the country, this children’s programme was established for educational purposes. Many children in Saint-Louis du Sud are not able to attend school. The topics covered in the programme are often derived from the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The impact of this radio programme on the situation of children in domesticity is a beginning of change in Saint-Louis du Sud. The restaveks in this city are, when compared to other children of the families where they are living, now in the year 2000 less discriminated than before.”
Joseph Georges of SAKS says that children’s programmes, wherever they exist, are very dependent on the availability of persons (sometimes artists) who like to work on children’s themes. The danger is that when such individuals are not around, there will be no children’s programme in the media.
History of the integration of children in the media
In the 1970s, several radio stations, among them Radio Lumiere, had children entertainment programmes where children would tell jokes, stories, say poems etc. In addition to other air time dedicated to children’s themes, Radio Nationale used to broadcast a Sunday programme with children stories. Also, Radio Haiti Inter had a programme where various games practiced by children were presented. However at that time, the concept of the rights of the child was not obvious as yet.
Monique Clesca recalls how the participation of children in the media was almost non-existent when she started working with UNICEF in 1983. “The people did not talk about that. Children were considered props, furniture and decoration. Even the concept of rights of the child was not real.”
A survey among mothers and fathers, done after the first wide-scale child immunization campaign in 1986, identified children as the main source of information on immunization for the majority of parents. Messages were directed to children and suggested that they ask for immunization which is good for their well-being. As such they were entrusted to play an active role in conveying two messages. On the one hand, children would repeat “Have me immunized.” On the other hand, they urged their parents to take them to be immunized.
Based on these statistical data, next campaigns for immunization, as well as for oral rehydration and breast-feeding, will therefore consider children as agents for conveying the mobilization message.
One or two years later, according to Monique Clesca, UNICEF started to spread the message about the concept of the rights of the child. Messages were prepared relating to the right of children to express themselves and the obligation of parents to listen to them. Later on, when the message was conveyed that children are entitled to rights, it was decided to use children’s voices. It was a child who said “Timoun se Moun” (children are human beings).
It still remains less evident in the Haitian society to consider the child as an entity in itself. While mentioning blatant cases where children are discredited, the head of MC Conseils recalls how difficult it has been to find pictures of children who are just by themselves (these were sought for a calendar on children throughout history). “The child is always with its parents, always in another universe.”
In Haiti, traditionally there are two occasions which envision to give the floor to children:
- The National Day for the Child, the second Sunday of June of each year;
- The International Day of Radio and Television for Children, celebrated every year on the second Sunday of December.
The focus of these days is to assure the withdrawal of regular presenters and organize a take-over by children who as such become the presenters, Monique Clesca says.
“Radio Superstar has been one of the media to fully integrate the suggested approach: children have produced spots and have played the role of presenter too. Radio Metropole has also played an early role by emphasizing children songs. The interesting thing is that ever since this occasion, children have remained producers and speakers in this Radio Metropole broadcast.”
According to Monique Clesca, the goal was to develop a format for the active participation of children who would hold positions of responsibility: programming their broadcast, corrections, management, selection of themes of interest, and ensuring that the use of children’s language.
Role of the government
Many parents unceasingly complain that the content of many broadcasts (music and others) are very tendentious and negative for children. They ask for State intervention to prevent the degradation of mores and values. Some television stations (an intimate medium that should not display just about anything) did and do not hesitate to broadcast, without any pre-warning, tough and violent images (aggressive spots, video clips, movies, curses or vulgar sounds), and even pornography which hurts the sense of decency and violates children’s rights.
“What does the Haitian government do, in particular the National Council on Telecommunications (CONATEL), concerning the standards described in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is practically positioned besides the national constitution and is very clear on respecting human rights? Is the government willing and does it have the capacity to regulate, supervise and censor?” Monique Clesca wonders.
Since the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child by the Haitian parliament in 1994, UNICEF has incorporated in its programme many activities relating to the involvement of children in the media and to the provision of general information on children in Haiti. Partnerships are now being planned with several media in the capital: those that already have relevant programmes, as well as others which need to be encouraged on the issue, Bethie Casty underlines.
“Maybe children are in a better position to address the government than we are,” Joseph Georges suggests. He mentions several reflections of children who were confronted with the authoritarianism of their parents. The parents tried to justify punishments because they were annoyed by the wild and loud play of children at home.
“Why, as parents, don’t you use the time spent on whipping us, to enter into dialogue with us?”
The government has a role and responsibility for educating the nation, so that children can live as children, can be entitled to respect and can have the same rights as all other people, according to Radyo Lakay of Saint-Louis du Sud.
“Priority must be given to education. All deficiencies in the basic preparation of children have consequences in the future, and may create little gangsters who give in to illegal drugs and corruption, and contribute to the worsening of the unequal social relations of today. Not only adults will pay the price, but the entire country will collapse,” Osny Agenor warns.
Radyo Zeb Ginen speaks also about the need to launch an appropriate family education programme for parents, aimed at moderating their tendencies to violence, knowing that they risk being unmasked by their children on the radio.
“When the children are abandoned on the street without an adequate basic education, they will increase the number of migrants to the cities (the phenomenon of rural migration). This will have impact on the levels of banditry and of illiteracy,” Lequilson Charles of Zeb Ginen emphasizes.
With regard to enabling a real change in the present state of the country, several steps are needed in the field of education and awareness, with objectives to stop the cycle of increase in street children, children in domesticity and of school drop-out.
|Fundamental elements of the Convention on the Rights of the Child Adopted on 20 November 1989 by the General Assembly of the United Nations, the Convention on the Rights of the Child entered into force on 2 September 1990. Although this Convention is still young, it is the most widely and most rapidly adopted human rights convention in history and on its way to become the first universal law of humankind. Haiti signed the Convention on 26 January 1990 and ratified it on 23 December 1994.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child is built on the basic principles that (1) decisions by authorities should be in the best interest of the child, (2) in defining what is in the best interest of the child, the child’s opinion is important, (3) every child has a right to development, not only to survival, and (4) all rights should be applied to all children without discrimination.
The Convention stipulates that Member States commit themselves to disseminate a variety of information relating to the rights of the child and to sensitize the public about these rights.
Concerning the participation of children in the media, the Convention details, in its articles 12 and 13:
The right of the child to express its opinion freely about any matter of its interest and to seek, receive and disseminate information and ideas of all kinds;
The possibility for every child to be heard in all judicial or administrative procedures affecting him/her.
Article 17 states: “States Parties 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, especially those aimed at the promotion of his or her social, spiritual and moral well-being and physical and mental health. To this end, States Parties shall:
- Encourage the mass media to disseminate information and material of social and cultural benefit to the child and in accordance with the spirit of article 29;
- Encourage international co-operation in the production, exchange and dissemination of such information and material from a diversity of cultural, national and international sources;
- Encourage the production and dissemination of children’s books;
- Encourage the mass media to have particular regard to the linguistic needs of the child who belongs to a minority group or who is indigenous;
- Encourage the development of appropriate guidelines for the protection of the child from information and material injurious to his or her well-being, bearing in mind the provisions of articles 13 and 18.”
Partnerships with institutions and organizations
Joseph Georges of SAKS suggests to come up with a strategy that encourages NGOs and international institutions working in the field of education, to develop productions which they can provide to the media. Within the Haitian reality one needs to make use of the media, which are very relevant communication tools for the dissemination of educational, awareness and motivative messages for children and adults.
Many media have already established partnerships with organizations working on children’s issues. But these issues are not treated in-depth and the participation of children is very limited, Save the Children USA states.
Plan Haiti, which has just started the implementation of a radio programme for children and managed by children, believes that such initiatives are likely to help to enforce the rights of children. The government must integrate children in the community development process, according to this organization.
|Child Journalists of Trou-du-Nord and Fort-Liberte, Northeast Department In March 2000, Plan Haiti, Radio Nederland Training Centre, a radio training organization based in Costa Rica and the Panos Institute launched a media project which aims to give voice to children, their opinions and their rights by promoting their effective participation in the media. The project focuses on the dissemination of information produced by the child reporters.
Two groups of 15 children from Fort-Liberte and Trou-du-Nord, two towns of the Northeast of Haiti, are involved in this project.
“It is about a collective approach to raise awareness on the importance of the participation of children in the media. The monthly production (by the children) of two radio magazines helps children to develop their potential, to be self-reliant, to participate in national debates, to discover their environment, to be critical, to get involved in the democratization process and become responsible men and women,” Stephanie Conrad of Plan Haiti indicates. PLAN hopes to expand the scope of this initiative and reach children in other areas that it covers.
The initiative is a component of a wider programme of Plan on children and the media, in which children from El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras and Nicaragua participate.
A web site (www.panosinst.org/radio) provides a forum for the international exchange of ideas, experiences, comments, media productions and other information among child reporters and other interested groups. The site is also a tool for a wide dissemination of the media products of the child reporters, in Creole, English, French and Spanish.
Roody Thelemaque speaks out on the need to develop well-balanced programmes. Within the socio-economic reality of the country, not all categories of children have access to the various programmes meant for them. Many cannot purchase a radio receiver, nor a television set, a newspaper or a computer, she underlines.
Newly prevailing democratic norms in Haiti recommend a change in relations among individuals and consider the child as a complete human being, having rights, a personality and being worth of respect and dignity as a human being. Nevertheless, as yet, the expression of children is not part of news and information programmes in Haiti.
“Early or late, the new discourse and the wind of social change will find its way to the media! The children of today are the adults of tomorrow,” Bethie Casty of UNICEF-Haiti says.
The specialists interviewed within the scope of this study, plead for a communication policy that starts valuing children and develops partnerships for providing more media space for children.
The right to communication, specialized media, strategic choices by media concerning their programming, types of speech and specific guidance, what democratic vision and for which society: many of these themes, which relate to the expression and involvement of children in the media in Haiti, remain unsettled.
Pascale Pierre of Radyo Vwa Peyizan Sid suggests that a society founded on respecting human rights (including the human rights of children) presupposes another democratic vision, to be instilled in children (which represent the future) from their earliest age, a change to a more open educational curriculum, and involving the responsibilities of parents.
As with the issue of birth certificates, which should be delivered to every child, a fundamental step would be the media making an effort to seek the opinions of children every time the society is confronted with difficulties. If media are as yet not ready to integrate this approach, they should at least carry out motivational campaigns which denounce the reprehensible behaviour of some parents and force the government to shoulder its duties, several specialists state.
“May their involvement increase! The Ministry for National Education must adapt its pedagogics and deal with the conflict “right to expression/interdiction of expression. Some intelligent children only seem rebellious because they are not allowed to express themselves,” Monique Clesca indicates.
The media managers of Haiti are open to new ideas, on the condition that they get at least a minimum of funding, according to the Director of MC Conseils. In a recent consultancy for UNICEF (during the beginning of the year 2000), she recommends media managers to investigate the listening rates of children.
The question is whether adults will break the bonds, will set the children free, will give them confidence and opportunities to exercise their right to communication, in leisure and as an educational tool, including education of adults by children.
For Joseph Georges of SAKS, the nature of the child – the habitual voice, the laughter and the natural singing in programmes for children – does not mean that such programmes are ill-prepared.
He recommends the use of the radio as a means to help fight the dictatorial mentality which prevails in Haiti. He invites groups to adopt strategies that, first of all, would entrust children with communication materials, to do interviews for instance.
There is no problem for the child, based on his knowledge and previous training in communication, to conceive messages, write small texts, carry out interviews or dramatize. Children are great actors and Haitian children have enormous talents and abilities. One would be astounded by the level of their intelligence and their capacity to articulate issues, one after the other, or their convictions about their rights as children, he adds.
“Once children listen to people of their age group, who express themselves in the media, the message will flow very fast. But, be careful not to transform these programmes into intellectual broadcasts which would introduce intellectual differences among the children.”
Some institutions of reference:
Save the Children Canada
8 Imp. Baron
Ave. Jean Paul II, Turgeau
Tel/Fax: (509) 245-2101/0243
Web site: www.savethechildren.ca
United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
17 rue Armand Holly, Debussy
Tel: (509) 245-1404/1424
Fax: (509) 245-1877
International Labour Organization (ILO)
Rue Camille Léon No. 11 à l’étage
Tel/Fax: (509) 245-1683
Impasse Lily No. 3, Rue Stephen
Tel/Fax: (509) 256-1438 / 4229
Coalition Haïtienne pour la défense des droits de l’enfant (COHADDE)
23, 3e Avenue du Travail
Tel/Fax: (509) 245-5014
Save the Children USA
13 Rue Debussy
Tel: (509) 245-5153 / 4606
Fax: (509) 245-0036
International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
266, rue Royale
1210 Bruxelles, Belgique
Sosyete Animasyon Kominikasyon Sosyal (SAKS)
24, Rue Dalencourt
Tel/Fax: (509) 245-6422
Institut de Bien-être social et de recherche (IBESR)
Ave. des Marguerites No. 14, Bois Verna
Tel: (509) 245-2602 / 2601 / 6485 / 2633
Village d’Enfants SOS d’Haiti
Petite Place Cazeau, Entrée Dumez
Santo 19, No. 966 B-B
Tel: (509) 246-0280 / 3279
Fax: (509) 238-1134 / 3177
- Ronald Colbert and Carril Desrosiers are free-lance journalists who reside in Haiti.
- The Panos Institute of Washington, DC and Port-au-Prince is an international organization that works to strengthen civil society in countries across the globe by helping journalists to cover sustainable development issues that are overlooked and misunderstood, in particular those whose impact transcends national boundaries.
- Yenyen is a creole expression used in Haiti to qualify some kinds of behaviour of people who whimper and complain all the time, and refers here to the artificiality of communication.
- The percentage of 47% (estimated population of children) has been derived by Panos from demographic data as presented in “Population of 18 Years and Older, Households and Estimated Densities in 1999, June 1999,” published by the Division of Analytic and Demographic Research (DARD) of the Haitian Institute of Statistics and Informatics (IHSI).
|Population by age groups, as estimated in 1999
|65 years +
Sources : IHSI and Panos
- This was concluded by an international conference held under the auspices of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1990 in Jomtien, Thailand.
- * Ribambelle = recreational slot for children, broadcast every weekday by the VHF private television station Telemax;
* Le P’tit Nouvelliste, weekly magazine for children distributed inside the principal daily newspaper of Haiti “Le Nouvelliste”
* Ti Jounal Mwen: Previous weekly edition that was distributed inside “Le Nouvelliste” in the past.
- KACHKACH LIBEN: A traditional game played by groups of children in Haiti. The game consists of choosing one among these children to go out of sight, while the rest of them keeps a small stone hidden. The one who went out of sight must come back to find who has got the small stone. If he discovers the person with the stone, the latter must take his turn.