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Media Impacts on Children’s Rights Essay

Child abuse gives most people a vision of the faults and blunders of the society. Child mistreatment is one of the most common crimes committed in the present. As for the Philippines, one can find vital statistics to certain crimes at the Bantay Bata 163 website (http://www.abs-cbn.com/bantaybata163). According to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), 6,494 cases of child abuse were reported for the year of 2006 alone. Indeed, the government and certain non-government organizations must deal with these incidents of child abuse particularly the mass media.

This paper examines the role of the media in relation to child abuse and child protection and argues that the media have been essential to the task of placing the problem of child abuse in the minds of the public and on the political agenda.


According to YourDictionary.com, Mass Media is those means of communication that reach and influence large numbers of people, especially newspapers, popular magazines, radio, and television. Mass Media are those media that are created to be consumed by immense number of population worldwide and also a direct contemporary instrument of mass communication. Nonetheless, Mass Media is considered as the fourth estate of the society as well. It is the fourth branch of the government. It is the voice and weapon of the people and the society as whole.

Mass media has various purposes, first is for entertainment, traditionally through performances of acting, music, and sports, along with light reading but since the late 20th century it can also be through video and computer games. Next is for public service announcement which is intended to modify public attitudes by raising awareness about specific issues like health and safety. And lastly is for advocacy. This can be for both business and social concerns. This can include advertising, marketing, propaganda, public relations and political communication.


As stated by the Secretary- General of the United Nations in 1998, Human Rights are ‘what reason requires and what conscience commands’ (Mizuta, 2000). It is commonly recognized that human rights are firm foundations of human existence and co-existence. It is for these human rights that the United Nations is engaged in securing the basic conditions of life, in ensuring peace, development, a safe environment, food, shelter, education, participation, equal opportunities and protection against intolerance in any form.

The Preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights expicitly states that:

‘every individual and every organ of the society, keeping this Declaration constatly inmind, shall strive by teaching education to promote respect for these rights and freedom’ (Hamelink, 2000).

With this, we can say that all (including different institutions) are responsible in promoting human rights.

Mass media present the opportunity to communicate to large numbers of people and to target particular groups of people. As observed by Gamble and Gamble (1999), mass communication is significantly different from other forms of communication. They note that mass communication has the capacity to reach ‘simultaneously’ many thousands of people who are not related to the sender. It depends on ‘technical devices’ or ‘machines’ to quickly distribute messages to diverse audiences often unknown to each other. Thus, media in relation to human rights shows a exceptional characteristic in promoting it.


In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) define child maltreatment as any act or series of acts of commission or omission by a parent or other caregiver that results in harm, potential for harm, or threat of harm to a child.

The physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect of children have a long recorded history. In the mid to late 1800s, it was reported that children were often sexually assaulted, that children reported honestly about their abuse, and that the perpetrators of abuse were often the children’s fathers and brothers (Olafsen, Corwin and Summit 1993). Every year, millions of children across the world are becoming innocent helpless targets of atrocities. They are the sufferers of ill-treatment, exploitation, and brutality. They are part of human trafficking to induce into prostitution rackets. In terror prone regions, they are kidnapped from their homes and schools and their innocent childhood is forced into the army to witness the brunt of cruelty. They are enforced into debt repression or other kinds of slavery.

In Metro Manila, according to Australian study, urbanization and migration continuously increase, children are often forced by circumstances to help their families earn a living. Most street children are of poor parents who have migrated from rural areas to find better job opportunities in the city, but lack of education renders them ill-equipped to earn or survive in the city. Street children have a bleak present and an uncertain future. Life in the street is a constant struggle to overcome the various negative elements that threaten to overtake and destroy the hope for survival. The street child works under the heat of the sun or in the dark of the night from 6 to 16 hours, seven days a week, often in a combination of “occupations” each considered their only means to survive.

In the cities, neglected and abandoned children find themselves in the streets fending for themselves and vulnerable to the various evils of the urban jungle such as drug addiction, crimes and commercial sexual exploitation. Children who are neglected or abandoned are easy prey not only to accidents but to commercial sexual exploitation, drugs, crime and unwanted pregnancies. Incidents of child abuse is still on the rise especially child sexual abuse. Also on the rise are reports of physical abuse and maltreatment of children. According to the statistics, there are approximately 40,000 to 50,000 street children of all categories in Metro Manila. Studies conducted reveal that the number of street children range from 2 to 3% of the child and adult population. The national project on street children estimated the number of street children at over 220,000 in 65 major cities as of 1993. There are now about 350 government and non government agencies that are responding to street children and their families.

The government has given special focus on helping street children with programs focused on health and nutrition, educational assistance, parenting sessions, livelihood and skills training, residential care, foster care and adoption. However for as long as there would be squatter colonies sprouting in urban areas and for as long as there are not enough jobs, street children will continue to dominate in the streets. In a 1993 survey of households, some 16% of households surveyed have children below 12 years old who are left unattended with no supervising adult in the house. This translates to one in six households where children are without adult supervision.

The consequences of child abuse are overwhelmingly disturbing. It denies a child its basic right-education. While violence and abuse pose a threat to their life, it also offers more devastating adverse effects on their mental and physical health. Often it leads to homelessness, resulting in increased number of cases of vagrancy giving birth to a feeling of depression. To worsen the scenario, these victims are more likely to abuse their own children in future, thanks to the deep impact on their mind and the cycle will continue forever.

Though the agony and the plight of these children remain suppressed in silence, the brunt of their exploitation is very real. Although, the whole world is morally fuming at the abuse children endure. Yet, protection laws against child abuse commonly meet with confrontation at all strata of society. Like the protection of human rights, child protection can also be effectively promoted through media.


The media have been essential to the growth of society’s awareness of child abuse and neglect, not so much from specific community education campaigns as through ongoing news and features reporting on specific cases, research and intervention initiatives (Gough 1996). Media representations are the primary source of information on social problems for many people (Hutson and Liddiard 1994). Specifically, it is apparent that the media’s conceptualization of children and young people, and media reporting on both physical discipline of children and child abuse, is significant in reflecting and defining society’s perceptions of children and young people (Franklin and Horwath 1996), and what is and what is not acceptable behavior towards children.

In addition to news stories, feature articles, and investigative journalism, sporadic mass media education and prevention campaigns are launched. These campaigns usually endeavor to broaden community knowledge of child abuse and neglect, to influence people’s attitudes towards children and young people, and to change behaviors that contribute to, or precipitate, the problem of child abuse and neglect in our communities (Goddard and Saunders, 2002). The constructive use of mass media can assist in teaching children and young people socially desirable ways of dealing with conflict, knowledge of their rights to integrity and protection from harm, healthy eating habits and lifestyles, and ways to assert themselves and their rights in a positive, acceptable manner.

In an Inquiry into the Effects of Television and Multimedia on Children and Families in Victoria, Australia, evaluations of educational television programs, designed either for pre-schoolers or for older children, have suggested their effectiveness in ‘heightening a range of social behaviors’ (Friedrich and Stein 1973), diminishing ‘the effects of stereotyping’ (Johnston and Ettema 1982), increasing ‘preparedness for adolescence’ (Singer and Singer 1994), and stimulating the discussion of ‘solutions to general social issues’ (Johnston et. al 1993).

The Convention of the rights of the child provides for the right of children to access information and material to those that aimed the promotion of his or her rights. (Hamelink, 1999).Therefore, mass media as a primary source of these information should provide the children proper knowledge of his or her rights. Also, mass media education and prevention campaigns may be designed to target children and young people, providing them with useful information and alerting them to avenues for further information, help and support. Campaigns can also use regular television programs for children. Research suggests that, at least in the short term, television viewing of such programs may increase children’s and young people’s knowledge and positively change attitudes and behaviors.

Unfortunately, longitudinal studies exploring sustained effects are rare and thus inconclusive. It further notes that television ‘is one of the most popular forms of mass communication and entertainment in has been under-utilized as an educative tool’, and suggests that perhaps narrow vision has meant that the deliberate use of television simultaneously to entertain and educate has not been fully recognized. Despite this, Postman (1994) has argued that television is rapidly becoming ‘the first curriculum’, with educational institutions such as schools following behind.

Further, campaigns may be designed to give children and young people an opportunity to express their views on issues that affect them, specifically targeting adult audiences that habitually ignore the views and experiences of children and young people. The UK Children’s Express is one example, as is Youth Forum in Melbourne’s Herald Sun newspaper.

.Research on the physical punishment of children suggests, for example, that adults may be interested to hear children’s views on the issue of physical discipline, and children interviewed in the research were keen for adults to hear their views. To date, however, the media rarely, if ever, consults children and takes their views into account before reporting on the physical punishment for children (Goddard and Saunders, 2000)


• EVERY CHILD IS IMPORTANT (Australia, May 2000)

This primary prevention campaign used a ‘comforting’ approach and incorporated a significant mass media component (Tucci et. al2001).

As outlined in ‘More action – less talk! Community responses to child abuse prevention’ (Tucci, et. al 2001), the campaign sought to: elicit a commitment from adults to adults to develop safe and non-abusive relationships with children; persuade adults to stop behaving in ways which are harmful to children; educate adults about the important needs of children; and better inform adults about the causes and consequences of child abuse.

The campaign encouraged all adults to: think and view children as a source of hope; understand the developmental variables of children; respect the meaning children give to their experiences; engage positively with the principles of children’s rights; and appreciate more fully the capacities and contribution of children to the cultural and emotional life of families and communities. The campaign also addressed: the commonly held belief that children are a cost to society; the perceived suspicion that any application of the notion of children’s rights will mean an erosion of parent’s rights; and the public’s lack of understanding about the extent and nature of child abuse in Australia.

The campaign continued until the end of 2001. A song, written by Van Morrison and performed by Rod Stewart, ‘Have I Told You Lately That I Love You’, was the focus of a television advertising campaign that aimed to stimulate people’s thoughts about the importance and value of children and how this is communicated to them. Television commercials were backed up by press and radio advertisements. In addition to advertising, the campaign sought media attention by involving Tracy Bartram, FOX FM radio personality, as an ambassador for the campaign. Media attention was drawn to the campaign’s launch. A free information kit for parents was made available, parent’s seminar sessions, featuring Michael Grose, were conducted, and a website made readily available to the public. The campaign did not receive state or federal funding but relied heavily on in-kind support from individuals and Victorian businesses.

Quantum Market Research monitored the effectiveness of the campaign. In May 2000 and October 2000 telephone interviews were conducted with a representative sample of 301 adults. Public dissemination of research outcomes formed part of the campaign strategy. Tucci et al. (2001) report that the initial research findings, five months into the campaign, revealed that: ‘Child abuse is as serious social problem that is poorly understood by the Victorian public while fifty one per cent of respondents believed the community recognized child abuse as a serious social problem and another twenty one per cent believed they accurately understood the extent and nature of child abuse in Australia, this is clearly not the case.

Fifty nine per cent were unable even to guess the number of reports of child abuse received annually. Only four per cent of respondents accurately estimated the size of the problem. Twenty-nine per cent of respondents underestimated the problem by at least 90,000 reports. The idea that adults can hurt children is disturbing and likely underpins the belief by fifty one per cent of respondents that the community treats this issue seriously, but when asked to account for the extent to which children are being abused by adults, community awareness is sadly lacking.’

Eighty per cent of respondents strongly supported the need for a campaign against child abuse. Australians Against Child Abuse thus feels confident that the ‘Every Child is Important’ campaign will significantly influence public attitudes and responses to children and to child abuse. Ongoing research into the impact of the campaign will in itself be valuable in contributing to the debate about the educative and cost effectiveness of mass media campaigns aimed at preventing child abuse and neglect.

• NSPCC Full Stop Campaign – Primary Prevention (United Kingdom, May 1999)

It has the ambitious aim of ending cruelty to children within 20 years. Costing three million pounds, it proposes to change attitudes and behaviour towards children, to make it everybody’s business to protect children, and to launch new services and approaches (Boztas, 1999). The campaign is supported by Prince Andrew, popular personalities such as the Spice Girls, the English football star Alan Shearer, and companies such as British Telecom and Microsoft.

As Rudaizky (quoted in Hall 1999) explains, a pictorial theme of the campaign is people covering their eyes: ‘The theme of the eyes being covered is about people not facing up to the reality of what is happening. Our intention was not to shock but to move people into doing something about it. Child abuse is not nice to talk about. It is an upsetting subject but unless we talk about it, we will not end it.’

This objective highlights the suppression/awareness phenomenon mentioned above, and draws attention again to the need for ongoing rather than intermittent prevention campaigns.

FAMILIES’ – University of Queensland

Sanders et al. (2000) evaluated Families – a 12-part prevention-focused television series ‘designed to provide empirically validated parenting information in an interesting and entertaining format. The series presented a parenting model, suggesting strategies parents could use with their children. It aimed to reassure parents that it is normal for parenting to be challenging, and it hoped to increase parents’ confidence that positive changes in children’s behavior were achievable. The series also aimed to increase awareness in the community of the importance of ‘positive family relationships’ to the positive development of young people (Sanders et al. 2000).

This ‘media-based television series’ was considered to be successful, specifically in relation to its impact on increasing the parenting confidence of mothers. However, Sanders et al. (2000) concluded that the impact of the series could have been increased: ‘by the strategic provision of service support systems, such as telephone information contact lines or parenting resource centers, which could be advertised as part of a coordinated media strategy planned to coincide with the airing of the television program. These services could provide information and back-up resources, such as parenting tip sheets, to parents seeking further advice after viewing the program. Staff at these centers could also identify and refer families who may need more intensive help.

• BEYOND BELIEF (United Kingdom, 1992)

A documentary claimed to show new evidence of satanic/ritual abuse in Britain. Following the program, helplines were overloaded with calls from people who had experienced sexual or ritual abuse. Counsellors noted that: ‘The program appeared to have given callers permission to speak of their experiences and their gratitude that someone, somewhere took what they said seriously.’ (Scott 1993)

Henderson, a fellow at Glasgow University’s mass media unit, as quoted by Hellen (1998) commented that: ‘A lot of people who have suffered child abuse quite simply lack the vocabulary, because of shame or fear, to come to terms with what has happened. Provided a drama does not place blame on the child, it can be very helpful.’

• BBC Screenplay

It has been suggested that sometimes ‘drama reaches the parts the documentary cannot’ (Campbell 1989). Writing about Testimony of a Child, a BBC screenplay that presents ‘the other side of the Cleveland child sexual abuse saga – the story of an abused child going home to [the] abuser’, Campbell argues that sexual assault ‘presents television with terrible problems. Television is about seeing. But it censors what we need to see if we are to understand because it bows to propriety and thus contains what is knowable’ (Campbell 1989).Despite this, Campbell (1989) notes the power of fictitious drama based on fact to: ‘ invite you to think: what would you do if faced with that child’s face, his fantasies full of terror and death, his starvation, his stubborn silences, his sore bum.

• COLD HANDS- (New South Wales, 1993)

Armstrong (1993) argued that the play portrays a week in the life of a 12 year-old girl sexually assaulted by her father and got pregnant. The play’s focus allows the audience to gain an insight into the child’s fear and trauma, the father’s feeble rationalization and defense, and the mother’s fear of confronting the truth.

Armstrong noted that the New South Wales Child Protection Council showed professional interest in the play and that plays have been used as part of child abuse awareness campaigns. The play’s director, Ritchie (as quoted by Armstrong 1993) remarked that: ‘The play is powerful, dramatic, presenting practical and emotional reality. It is confronting, but it emphasizes the fact that there is no excuse.

• QUESTIONS 2: Killing Tomorrow – New Zealand

A documentary, screened in New Zealand in 2001, graphically depicts the lives and abuse of three children. During the documentary, a Detective Inspector informs the audience that the drama is based on the lives of real people, and the audience is told how life turned out for the children and their abusers.

‘Only those with ice in their veins could fail to be moved – and there lies the problem. In each case, one adult or more had failed to take responsibility for the safety of a defenseless child’ (Herrick 2001). Reporting in The New Zealand Herald, Herrick asks what can programs like this possibly expect to achieve. Twenty years ago, polite society didn’t even acknowledge abuse existed, let alone talk about it. So shows like this, which provoke thought and discussion, must be a sign of progress, even if the statistics say otherwise. Killing tomorrow was punishing if compelling viewing.

Supported by New Zealand’s child protection authority, Child Youth and Family Services (CYFS), consider documentaries like ‘Killing Tomorrow’ to be a powerful way of educating people about the issues and what can be done to protect children. ‘We want to create an environment where child abuse is less able to exist and we’re pleased Screentime-Communicado has decided to help raise these serious issues’ (Brown, CYFS chief executive quoted in The New Zealand Herald 28/11/01).

After the program was screened there was a panel discussion of the issues presented in the documentary and CYFS booklets that provide tips on parenting were made available to the public. Child protection received 211 phone calls during the documentary and on the night it was screened. Fifty-three child abuse investigations resulted, five of which cases were considered ‘very urgent [and were] assigned immediately to social workers for investigation’ (Ward, CYFS spokesperson, quoted in The New Zealand Herald 30/11/01).

Also quoted in the New Zealand Herald 30/11/01 was Simcock, the National Social Services spokesperson: ‘The documentary showed community groups were doing their best on the issue but government measures were sadly lacking the most helpful thing the government could do was to change the law that allowed parents to hit children.

While the documentary appears to have raised awareness of child abuse and prompted some people to act on their suspicions of abuse and neglect, Henare, a Child Abuse Prevention Services spokesperson, noted that ‘the objective of the documentary would not be reached without enough money for community providers’ (quoted in The New Zealand Herald 30/11/01).

These are only some examples of media campaigns. There were still lots more evidences the media protecting children around the globe from abuse. Though media shows a remarkable effort in the child protection system, people can not stay away from the fact that there are still several problems these media campaigns face.


Journalists willing to advocate for children and young people face the challenge of counterbalancing negative images or ‘demonisation‘(Franklin and Horwath 1996) of children and, particularly, of adolescents, in print, television and film. Starkly contrasting with once popular views of childhood as a time of innocence, less than positive images of children and young people in the media may place obstacles in the path of attempts to prevent their abuse and neglect.

In 1968, 11-yearold Mary Bell murdered two boys, aged three and four in the UK. Twenty-five years later, in 1993, two ten-year-old boys murdered two-year-old Jamie Bulger in the UK, and in Australia in 1998, a ten-year-old boy was charged with drowning a six-year-old playmate. In such cases, a child being able to open his or her mind in abusive acts might be the perpetrator of maltreatment to his or her fellow.

Psychologically, the Social Information Processing Theory of Aggression, comes here. According to Strasburger (1995), the central tenet of social information processing theory is that children create their own rationales to explain the behavior of others during social during social encounters. In turn, these self- generated interpretation influence children’s responses in their ongoing social interaction. Given that mental state operate in a feedback loop, it is possible that all social experiences, including those involving violent media, could influence social information processing.


Society sometimes fails to recognize that children are the most vulnerable group in our community, and are thus in need of the greatest protection. The social and economic costs to societies that have not prioritized children’s needs, especially the prevention of child abuse and neglect, are well documented.

This paper focused on news stories, feature articles and investigative journalism. In this, we have concentrated on mass media education and prevention campaigns, television series, documentaries, and live theatre productions. It demonstrate the media’s potential power to positively influence child welfare policies, community responses to children and young people, and societal acknowledgement of, and reaction to, child abuse and neglect. It challenges those who are involved in child welfare and child protection to make greater efforts to understand media influences and to use the media constructively.

Sustained community education and prevention campaigns, using mass media communication, are integral to the prevention of child abuse and neglect. These campaigns continually confront communities with the reality of child abuse. They challenge people, institutions, and governments to listen to children and to respond to the needs of all children and families, and particularly the special needs of children who have been abused or neglected. Further, sustained mass media exposure of child abuse and neglect may publicly censure and shame perpetrators, many of whom are relatives and adults well known to the victimized child. According to Tucci (2002), the agenda for our community – and the government which represents us – should be clear. The prevention of child abuse should be a priority.

However, to be effective, mass media campaigns will need to be part of a broader prevention program that includes the provision of supports and services for all children and families. There are limitations to what the media can achieve.


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