The story about an abandoned baby finding a happy home with the police officer that found her is a happy one. However, the Beeld’s coverage of this story (“’Emmer’-baba wettig ma s’n” or “’Bucket’-baby legally mother’s”, 29/04/08, p. 7) is something to get mad about. By identifying the now 4-year old, Beeld put the child at risk of gossip and ridicule. This unfortunate outcome is made even more likely by the nickname she is given in the headline; ‘Emmer’-baba or ‘Bucket’-baby.
The article tells the reader how the 4-year old girl was found in a bucket toilet after her mother had abandoned her. A police woman who happened to be at a gas station across the road walked onto the scene when a group of people had just discovered the baby. This policewoman took the girl out of the bucket, took her to hospital and, once the girl had recovered, adopted her into her family. Now, after four years, she is her legal guardian.
A very worrying aspect about this article is the large picture that accompanies it. It shows the little girl and her adoptive mother, what at first seems just a positive and happy picture of mother and daughter. In the caption, the girl’s name and age are revealed.
The Constitution of South Africa (1996) specifies the child’s rights to be protected from “maltreatment, neglect, abuse or degradation”. The language used in the headline is clearly degrading, and the piece fails to protect the child from further abuse and degradation.
The best interests of the child should be a primary consideration for any journalists reporting on children (Constitution of South Africa (1996), African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (1999), UNICEF Guidelines, MMP and IAJ (2005)). The heroic act of the policewoman rather than the interests of the child seem to be the main issue in this article.
The dignity of the four-year old child is violated by giving a detailed description of her history without contemplating the consequences and by referring to her as ‘bucket-baby’.
The full identification of the child and her adoptive mother in the story is worrying because the article mentions that the girl does not know about her life story yet. It states that her mother wants to wait telling her until she starts asking questions. Now that this story is in the national newspaper, the choice to inform the child about her past is no longer hers. Acquaintances, classmates, or even strangers could make remarks that make the girl question her past a lot sooner than she would be ready for. Revealing her identity like this may take away some of her careless childhood years.
The article even hands some ammunition to those who want to make a ‘funny’ remark about this girl. A four-year old peer able to read may find the term ‘Emmer-baba’, used in the headline, a funny name for her. This headline, in combination with the clearly identifiable picture of the girl, could very possibly be cause for a new nickname.
The act of rescuing and adopting the child is a heroic one, but the portrayal in Beeld has a distinct racial element to it. It is apparently given such prominence because it is a potential reader of Beeld, an Afrikaans woman, adopting the girl. The effect is perpetuating a sense of paternalism for which Black people are the “grateful beneficiaries”.
There is of course nothing wrong with Beeld publishing a positive story about an abandoned baby who has been rescued. However, more thought should have been put into the way this was done.
Not only does the newspaper give information that could harm the little girl, but it also shows very little respect for her by referring to her in such crude terms in the headline. This carelessness turns a very glad event into an article to get very mad about.