The article “Party for little ones” (Sowetan, 09/06/08, p.5) by Luzuko Pongoma is one to be glad of. The article is about a party for abused children living at the Soweto Teddy Bear Clinic that was held at the Protea magistrate court. Whilst the article itself is to be glad of for bringing attention to child protection issues, the picture that accompanies it is what stands out the most. It fully protects the identities of the abused children, in a way that is both original and creative.
The article brings attention to a service for abused children, the Soweto Teddy Bear Clinic, and one of its initiatives. In doing so, it raises awareness of children’s rights and how they are violated, as well as the anxieties children may experience in court, and how these are being addressed.
The accompanying picture, by the same reporter, shows the children holding on to their teddy bears and their faces hidden by masks. The adult in the picture, whose identity is not hidden, is squatting at the children’s level.
It is in the best interests of children who have been abused to protect their identities, so they are not exposed to further harm or stigmatisation. Protecting their identities also shows respect for their rights to privacy and dignity  and is a sign of good journalistic practice.
UNICEF Guidelines (Date Unknown) on reporting on children calls for “necessary measures to be taken to ensure that a child’s identity is hidden when it is not in their best interest to be identified.” The Guidelines also advocate: “Always change the name and obscure the visual identity of any child who is identified as…a victim of sexual abuse or exploitation” . Some of the abused children may be survivors of sexual abuse.
The Criminal Procedure Act, 1977 (Act 51 of 1977) also requires the identities of child witnesses to criminal proceedings to be protected.
The use of the masks fully protects the children’s identities and makes the picture more positive, portraying the children as creative and playful, other than just victims of abuse.
This is a far cry from the black strips over children’s eyes that Sowetan normally uses to protect identities, and which MMA has criticised for being inadequate.
Showing the adult crouching to the level of children also dispels the unequal relations between the adult and the children.
Media Monitoring Africa hopes to see more of this kind of work.
1. The principle of the best interests of the child as paramount is specified in the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, The Bill of Rights of the Constitution of South Africa (1996) and the Children’s Amendment Act 2007. These also specify the child’s right to privacy and dignity.
2. Also in UNICEF and Media Monitoring Project (2003) All Sides of the story, reporting on children: A journalist’s handbook, p.52 and MMP and IAJ. 2005. A Resource Kit for Journalists: Children’s Media Monitoring Project.