The skilled and often-harrowing work of young student reporters and photo-journalists has been recognised in this year’s Young Human Rights Reporter of the Year Awards.
The competition, which is run by Amnesty International UK and supported by SecEd and the Guardian Teacher Network, saw entries from 2,500 students from across 200 schools.
There were six categories across key stages 2 to 5 including four for written entries and two for photographs. Students were asked to write an article or report of up to 500 words on a human rights-related issue, or to submit a photograph illustrating a human rights theme.
It is the first year the competition has had a photography element and photographic entries tackled issues such as bullying, prejudice, racism and homelessness.
Ten finalists were named in each category and attended the awards ceremony at Amnesty’s London HQ last Tuesday, April 30.
Among the secondary winners was a report by Victoria Coleman, 14, from Mayfield Grammar School in Kent, who wrote about the abuse of women’s rights across the world.
Zaahid Rahman, 15, from Cranbrook School in Essex, also won for his harrowing report into female genital mutilation and the young girls who are victim to this horrific practice.
He said: “It’s the most obscene, wrong thing I’ve ever been exposed to and it happens to so many people. More women than the whole population of Britain have it done to them. I couldn’t understand it so I had to write about it.”
In the 6th form category, Holly Gomez, 16, from Woodfarm High in East Renfrewshire, won for a report on North Korea’s work camps.
The only secondary winner in the photography categories was Nancy Cofie, 16, from The Charter School in London for her depiction of homelessness in the capital.
Nancy said: “Homelessness is a really important issue. People all see it but they don’t like to notice it. I think expressing it through photography is the best way because it means people actually see it.”
Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK, said: “The quality of the writing and photographs has been simply outstanding and I look forward to crossing their paths in the years ahead.”
Elsewhere, last week’s ceremony also saw the winner of Amnesty’s protest song competition, Power of Our Voices, unveiled. A quartet from Truro College, Gypsy’s Anchor, won the top prize in the performance category, while the lyrics award went to 15-year-old Isla Ratcliff from The Edinburgh Music School.
Isla’s winning song, Death Row, tackles the death penalty and focuses on the case of Troy Davis, who was executed by lethal injection in 2011 despite significant doubts over his conviction.
Gypsy’s Anchor’s winning song is called Full Score and compares young people’s life in the UK with life for child soldiers.
For further information and resources, visit www.amnesty.org.uk/youngreporter
Excerpts from winning secondary essays: Victoria Coleman
I am tortured. I am starved. I am terrorised. I am not treated fairly.
I am the victim of rape. I am on the receiving end of violence. I am forced into doing things that I don’t want to do.
I am discriminated against. I am forced to give birth to HIV-infected children. My name’s Abena and I am a woman.
This young woman is one of the millions who are discriminated against daily purely for being female. Even though women do two-thirds of the world’s work, they receive merely 10% of the world’s income and own 1% of the means of production. This is due to gender inequality.
Around the world, only 20% of national parliamentary seats are occupied by women. This has improved over the years but is still less than a quarter. This is due to gender inequality.
In the UK ever child, regardless of their gender, is entitled to an education. Sadly, this is not the case in Afghanistan. Of the 4.2 million Afghan children not getting an education, Unicef estimates that 65% are girls and most live in rural districts.
In the UK a lot of students don’t realise how important an education is and take it for granted whereas on the other side of the world, a child of the same age longs for an education.
Excerpts from winning secondary essays: Zaahid Rahman
FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) is a common cultural practice in many parts of the world today including the Middle East, East Africa and South-east Asia. Its mere existence makes it too common.
Typically involving girls aged below 15 years of age, this traumatic procedure may involve removing, stitching and cauterising the genitals.
In areas with considerable immigrant populations in the UK, awareness should be raised of FGM as around 20,000 girls are at risk in Britain and France. Too often is it the case that unsuspecting girls are sent on ‘holidays’ with family where FGM is carried out abroad.
Though France employs a tougher protocol in actively examining potential victims on return, Britain continues to hide behind the curtain of cultural sensitivity.
As a result of this around 100 convictions linked to FGM have been made in France whereas absolutely none have been made in Britain, despite a total of 82 incidents being reported to Scotland Yard. Since its outlawing in 1985, the practice has a paltry sentence of 14 years attached to it for inflicting permanent damage.
Collaboration together as humans is the only way to eradicate this monster. Let us try to make this the last generation to be violated by the knife.
Excerpts from winning secondary essays: Holly Gomez
Witnessing a six-year-old beaten to death for eating corn, being hung upside down on a coal fire and having a knuckle chopped off for dropping a sewing machine.
Is this the reality for prisoners of North Korea’s modern day concentration camps? Yes. However, “No” is the answer from the North Korean authorities who consistently deny their very existence.
The ghost prisoner Shin Dong-hyuk, along with 200,000 others, go through these traumatic ordeals on a daily basis.
People in Kwanliso are considered “sub-human animals” that are not worthy of being taught anything. For 23 years Shin Dong thought that “society inside the camp would be the same as outside”. Shin believed that he was born to be a prisoner, even though the reality was that he was an innocent victim of a tragic system, known as the “three generations of punishment”.
When Shin’s uncle committed the capital crime of escaping from the state, his remaining family was imprisoned for life in Camp 14. Shin was born and bred there.
Due to Google Maps and human rights activists the camps have been mapped. It is increasingly difficult to put an end to these camps – how can you stop that which officially does not exist?
Amnesty International Young Human Rights Reporter of the Year: Secondary winners
Lower Secondary (written)
Winner: Victoria Coleman, 14, Mayfield Grammar School, Kent.
Runners-up: Anna-Beth Brogan, 12, Oxford High School for Girls; Gabriella Emery, 11, Bishop Thomas Grant School, London.
Upper Secondary (written)
Winner: Zaahid Rahman, 15, Cranbrook School, Essex.
Runners-up: Ellie Williams, 15, Knutsford Academy, Cheshire; Genevieve Brown, 16, Inverurie Academy, Aberdeenshire.
Sixth Form (written)
Winner: Holly Gomez, 16, Woodfarm High School, East Renfrewshire.
Runners-up: Charlie Blake, 17, Bancroft’s School, Essex; Louise Wylie, 16, Knightswood Secondary School, Glasgow
Upper Secondary/Sixth Form (photojournalism)
Winner: Nancy Cofie, 16, The Charter School, London.
Runners-Up: Isabel Watkins, 15, The Royal School, Surrey; Stephanie Piedra, 17, The Charter School, London.
CAPTION: Fighting for our rights: Secondary award winners included photographer Nancy Cofie (pictured in main story) for her image depicting homelessness (top), and reporters (pictured with their essays) Victoria Coleman, Zaahid Rahman and Holly Gomez. Photographs by students Isabel Watkins (above left) and Stephanie Piedra (right) were also highly commended