IN A region where the issue of child marriage reigns supreme and is silently accepted by many as a â€œnormalâ€ practice, the media needs to take charge and correct misconceptions.
And that is exactly what journalists from four southern African countries are doing after receiving support from regional communication for development organisation Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf).
Child marriage is a stumbling block to the realisation of the vision of a southern Africa community that drives its own development agenda.
In addition to violating the rights of girls and boys, child marriage also represents the most prevalent form of sexual abuse and exploitation of children.
Child marriage is a direct form of discrimination against the child, who, as a result of the practice, is often deprived of basic rights to health, education, development and equality.
With funding from Plan International, PSAf is supporting journalists and media houses from Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe to develop in-depth content that would generate debate and inspire action to end child marriages.
In December, PSAf conducted regional media training which brought together journalists and media trainers from the four countries.
The training provided the journalists with a platform to share experiences, to strengthen their understanding of the issues and put them in a better position to report on the issues.
This is in recognition of the critical role the media plays to create and raise awareness, influence behavioural change and influence policy change around issues of child marriages and suggest possible solutions to the problems.
Discussions and presentations at the media training showed that the drivers of child marriage in southern Africa are complex and interrelated.
Poverty is the main driver of child marriages.
It forces families to marry off their daughters at a young age in the hope of improving the economic status of the family.
It is also believed that forcing girls, particularly orphans, to get married will result in a better life for them.
Journalists have shared testimonies of how the training and fellowships provided them with skills on how to angle and package stories to bring out the different factors surrounding child marriages.
Building on the foundation laid during the training, some of the journalists enrolled for a PSAf media fellowship programme.
Under the fellowship, the journalists are now producing in-depth feature articles and radio programmes on child marriage.
Unlike the usual tendency of tackling child marriage as â€œone of those issuesâ€, the training empowered journalists to report on the scourge in an in-depth and effective way that would influence legal and policy reforms.
The media has the ability to inform the public and to shape a personâ€™s view of the world they live in.
Through the media, we are able to determine what is acceptable and what is not. Therefore the media can either positively or negatively influence public opinion on child marriage.
The media also has the power to determine what news is and to construct stories and select words in ways that affect people.
When they provide a more in-depth and well investigated analysis of the issues, they can show different perspectives and contribute to public awareness. This, therefore, means that a well-informed citizenry, leads to participation in issues of development.
The public can even be aware of the services they were not aware of and to assert their rights.
Stimulated journalistic or professional interest has already induced debates and discussions around the social, cultural and legal drivers of child marriages.
The author is PSAf regional programme manager for health and development.