Capacity building on combating child trafficking was held for journalists in North Macedonia with trainers Veronika Pishorn and Iara De Witte from “Defence for children” – ECPAT, Netherlands and Natasha Dokovska from North Macedonia, as well as experience shared by Ismail Einashe from the research network Lost in Europe.

Veronica Pishorn spoke about Irregular migration, smuggling and human trafficking, sharing a lot of data and resources for journalists like UNICEF Principles and Guidelines for Ethical Reporting on Children and Young People under 18 years old, as well as links with statistics about children on the move in North Macedonia stating that the country has the highest number of arrivals in the region (2017 stats) followed by BiH and Serbia. Interesting for North Macedonia is that 50 percent of arrivals come directly from Greece, but most of them do not apply for asylum, but are transiting. She mentioned some details from the Alternative report of NGOs on the state of children’s rights in North Macedonia as a good journalistic resource. Children being detained as witnesses in proceedings against human traffickers without being informed about the reasons for detention, is an act of punishing the child instead of the perpetrator, she explained, violating their right to information further pushing them not to trust the system.  She explained what irregular migration, asylum-seeker, refugee, unaccompanied minor, smuggling, trafficking in persons, mixed migration flows refer to. As she explained smuggling becomes trafficking when children are exploited.

Iara de Witte spoke about the protection gaps and increased risk, as well as the protection of Roma children in the Netherlands. As she said there is double vulnerability for unaccompanied minors to become victims of child trafficking because they are often illegally in the country, in the Netherlands there is a legal guardian provided from a child protection organization, which helps a little bit in the legal protection, there a shelters/safe buildings for victims of trafficking, but there is lack of information (because of language, understanding, not informed children). She mentioned a research they made with collaborators in Europe about risks of trafficking in migration within EU. Since then she has promoted the idea that children without family pick pocketing could be also victims of trafficking, with a network behind it.

Natasha Dokovska shared the example of JHR having the first shelter for street children in the late 1990-ies. As she mentioned the children were not in school, hungry and the had a chance to be educated and fed in the shelter, also involving the mother to cook and clean for them and get a pay so they do not need to beg on the street. But since it was a one-year project the children were back on the street after the end of it. From the journalist aspect, she said we need to have a bigger impact to improve life of Roma children, to be corrector of society, to have permanent change.

Veronika Pishorn also commented on the issue of responsibility and media response by reminding that the issue of 10.000 children going missing in Europe has been a status quo since ten years ago. As data shared recently are the same as five years ago and nothing has improved, and part of the issue of migrant children going missing and is related to Roma children in North Macedonia is that we take it for granted. It is difficult to make the policy makers to see a situation going on for 10 years as an urgent one – it is not number one on their agenda for the next 5 years, but the journalists should push for making the issue of Roma children an issue of children in general.

On the issue of safeguarding vulnerable people she pointed out it means how we speak to vulnerable people but also how we speak about them, and shared the children’s perspective in Alternative report on the state of children’s rights in Macedonia where it says: “The journalists who sometimes report on the new online platforms about sexual abuse of children, in no case must provide personal information about the person who fell victim to violence. This also goes for the parents; they also must not share that their child was a victim of sexual abuse unless the child agrees to that.”

Iara de Witte, explaining why words matter, referred to the Terminology guidelines for the protection of children from sexual exploitation and sexual abuse (Luxembourg guidelines, 2016). As she said it was felt at ECPAT that words matter because it defines how we conceptualize problems, define issues and respond. Tendency to use language making children an actor in their own abuse should not be tolerated, and through these guidelines finished in 2016 we wanted to achieve that, she explained.

Natasha Dokovska referring to the Macedonian perspective on reporting shared some details on the legislation regarding trafficking in persons and children, adding that the National Commission for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings is responsible for taking measures aimed at improving the identification of victims of trafficking, providing their assistance and protection, as well as more efficient detection of perpetrators of trafficking and bringing them to justice. She shared some basic principles to follow stating that a well-trained journalist: does not value his product too much, refrains from giving his or her own opinion when reporting news, uses quotation marks and cites sources, is obsessed with the truth, serves the citizens, is a skeptic (and often a critic), has a passion for journalism, knows the problem he/she treats.

Speaking about ethics in reporting in Macedonian media, she mentioned that it is important not to make a sensation and to follow the money (who is the trafficker, the chain etc.) It is very important not to use hate speech or stereotypes, but also to humanize the story, but also not to make secondary victimization, by asking repeatedly same questions. Checking your sources is also very important as well as not to reveal the identity of the victim and respect the victim and her rights.

Ismail Einashe in the session on finding and researching stories shared his experience with the network Lost in Europe and trauma-informed journalism on migration. He gave overview on how journalists can more effectively report on vulnerable people who have experienced trauma, exploring the role of journalists and news media in forced migration and its aftermath, understanding how some refugee stories could do more harm than good, how to avoid stereotypes, cliches and propaganda, how to use reporting methodology, storytelling and interdisciplinary collaborations, how to give tools back to refugees and migrants to tell their stories on their own terms, as well as what media get wrong about coverage on migration and refugee issues. As a useful source he mentioned the Dart Center for journalism and trauma, and tips on involving children and families in reporting, as well as the Style guide for trauma-informed journalism, which he helped in, with great references on language and terminology as well as ethics in reporting on topics like irregular migration, human trafficking, people smuggling etc.

He mentioned that really important is to have “informed consent”, which means that the person interviewed needs to know what the consequences to them are if a story comes out and they are recognized as the “whistle blower”, what it means to their family, especially in the context of children. When people who are vulnerable need not to be additionally endangered, by revealing identity, place, or not know what the consequences towards them could be. As Einashe said, when talking to people who experienced trauma you have to be prepared for unusual flows of conversation, and be flexible. Framing is critical, be aware that journalists have their own cultural lenses, try to avoid cultural stereotypes (for instance about Roma community, and id using an interpreter, make sure they’re trauma-sensitive.

Discussing what trauma is, participants defined it as an emotional response to a terrible event, an injury other than a physical wound that is felt as a consequence of participating with a tragic end, but also as an incredible, unusual surprise, usually through visual perception. Veronika Pishorn added that not all trauma looks the same, and not all reactions look the same.

Even though media will say they do, there is not real trauma training in media houses in general, but there are a lot of resources and outside trainings that can help as well as talking to colleagues that have been in a similar reporting situation.

It was pointed out that the training was a good experience sharing opportunity, but also a chance to continue collaboration, do stories and connect with colleagues in the region possibly joining some journalism research projects on the topic as well as to further develop the knowledge on reporting, raising awareness and contributing to protection of children from trafficking.