DO NOT IDENTIFY MISSING CHILDREN WHO HAVE BEEN FOUND!
Kidnapped or missing children who have been found alive should no longer be identified in media coverage. Continuing to identify them directly or indirectly potentially exposes them to further harm. Additionally, the media acts unethically and illegally if they continue to identify these children.
This week, Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) gives a MAD to People’s Post and News24 for identifying a child who had gone missing but was now found in a story about the issue. The article titled, “Missing teen from Bergvliet found unharmed a week after her disappearance” (12/01/2024) is written by People’s Post and published by News24 on its website, giving details as to when the child went missing and when she was found. Unfortunately, the child is identified through name and picture.
Continuing to identify such a child poses great risk to them as they might be harmed by retribution and further victimised. When reporting on a kidnapped or missing child who has since been found, the media must refrain from identifying them to protect them.
As victims and potential witnesses at criminal proceedings, identifying these children in media coverage is in violation of the Criminal Procedure Amendment Act which affords the children protection from being identified.
The general rule of the Criminal Procedure Amendment Act in Section 154 (3) which was amended following public participation processes and engagements with Parliament and signed into law in February 2022 is that, “No person shall before, during or at any stage after the conclusion of criminal proceedings, in any manner, including on any social media or electronic platform publish any information which reveals or may reveal the identity of an accused, victim or witness who is or was under the age of 18-years-old at the time of the alleged commission of an offence.”
As a police investigation into the child’s disappearance is underway, the journalist should have been extra cautious to protect the child from further harm, including potential harm that might result from being identified in media coverage.
It is likely that the investigation may result in the opening of a Children’s Court Inquiry to address any precipitating or resulting challenges and trauma that the child and family have experienced because of the child’s disappearance. The Children’s Act (2005) protects children involved in such proceedings from exposure. The child’s exposure in the media may compromise her and the family’s recovery from this trauma.
Further, by identifying the child, the journalist flouted the Press Code of Ethics and Conduct for South African Print and Online Media. Section 8.1 of the Code states, “(media must) exercise exceptional care and consideration when reporting about children**. If there is any chance that coverage might cause harm of any kind to a child, he or she shall not be interviewed, photographed or identified without the consent of a legal guardian or of a similarly responsible adult and the child (taking into consideration the evolving capacity of the child); and a public interest is evident.”
In conclusion, media coverage further exposing the identity of this child may cause further harm to the child. Further, the article does not indicate whether fully-informed consent was obtained from both the child and her guardians. Lastly, there is no public interest evident in the story. MMA submits that even where there is a public interest in a story, the media should always protect the best interest of the child as is outlined in Section 28.2 of the Bill of Rights of the South African Constitution.
MMA urges the media to be extra cautious when reporting on kidnapped, abducted or missing children who have been found and to refrain from continuing to identify them directly or indirectly.
MMA requests People’s Post and News24 to withdraw the identity of the child from the website. Further, an explanation to readers should be given as to why the child’s identity has been withheld.
We look forward to reading further articles on children that have been ethically written.
Written by Lister Namumba with expert input from Dr. Joan van Niekerk, a renowned Child Rights and Child Protection Consultant and Author.
 MADs are given to media who irresponsibly report on children and/or potentially subject the children to harm
 MMA’s Reporting on Children in the Media toolkit to be available on the website soon.