AJ Labs, Al Jazeera’s interactive unit, has won the top prize in the Digital Media category at the prestigious One World Media Awards in London.
The winning entry – Lost Childhoods: How Nigeria’s Fear of Child ‘Witchcraft’ Ruins Young Lives – was praised on Monday for its interactive investigation into the practice of branding children and young adolescents as “witches”.
“Combining graphic novel imagery with film, this highly accessible piece effectively covers a major human rights issue,” One World Media organisers said from the awards gala at London’s British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA).
‘How Nigeria’s Fear of Child ‘Witchcraft’ Ruins Young Lives’ WINS the #DigitalMedia #Award! Combining graphic novel imagery with film, this highly accessible piece effectively covers a major human rights issue. Congratulations to @AJEnglish & @marceellison! pic.twitter.com/v2yj8HR8ok
— One World Media (@onewm) June 17, 2019
Lost Childhoods is an interactive graphic novel exposing child abuse in Nigeria.
Blamed for family illness, sudden financial loss or other misfortunes, the children are often beaten, locked into cages, branded with hot knives or made to undergo costly “exorcisms” performed by so-called “prophets” in local churches.
With little choice but to flee, many children end up as drug addicts and living in rubbish dumps or on the streets.
AJLabs teamed up with journalist-photographer Marc Ellison and Nigerian illustrator Samuel Iwunze to unearth the facts of this under-reported story. Working meticulously with local fixers, NGOs and child psychologists, Ellison was able to expose the practice that has taken hold in parts of the Niger Delta and that has partially been fuelled by myths propagated by the Nigerian film industry.
Lost Childhoods employs a mix of visual and textual formats, including comic/graphic novel illustrations to preserve anonymity and portray past events.
Carlos Van Meek, Al Jazeera’s director of Digital Innovation and Programming, said, “We’re very proud of AJLabs – led by Mohammed El-Haddad – which continues to produce thoughtful and award-winning interactive, data-driven content.
“This story, in particular, is a skilful weave of investigations, videos, photos and illustrations that brings to light disturbing physical, emotional and religious abuse against children. Our goal is – and always will be – to make an impact that leads to positive change at the local and international level.”
As further testament to the production, AJLabs worked with NGOs to translate the graphic novel into local languages for distribution within communities, schools and churches in Nigeria, in an attempt to educate people and end the practice of scapegoating innocent children and branding them as witches.
Lost Childhoods won against fellow shortlist nominees PBS Frontline and the BBC’s Africa Eye. It was the second win for the interactive which also won the top prize in the innovation category at the Amnesty Media Awards ceremony, also held at BAFTA on April 3.
Established in 1988, the One World Media Awards highlight the vital role journalists play in reporting on the developing world and in “shining a light on stories that are under-reported, that break down prejudice and connect cultures”.