The reporting of a story of two children from Soweto who were missing for two weeks and were found on Tuesday 21st September 2010 has highlighted the challenges faced by media in reporting on children.

The campaign to find the children was high profile, with media playing an active role in highlighting their disappearance and calling for help in finding the two girls.

Reporting on missing children is difficult, as it is generally in a child’s best interests to name them when they are missing to raise awareness and encourage vigilance among the public in order to find them.

However, when missing children are found it may not be in their best interests to identify them, despite the fact that theirnames and images were previously in the public domain. This is one such case.

The children have reportedly alleged that they ran away because they were being physically abused and neglected by a relative. Child abuse is a crime, and this case is currently under investigation. The children are alleged victims of and witnesses to a crime and are afforded legal protection – The Criminal Procedure Act, Section 154 (3).

News outlets had two choices in this case. They could report that the children had been found and name them, but to do this they would have to omit the allegations of abuse. However ignoring a case of child abuse is a problematic decision to make. As a result it is understandable and commendable that media would seek to report the investigation into the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of these children. However to do so the media must protect the identities of the two children involved.

A child’s right to dignity and privacy are also protected in the South African Constitution and in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. That these rights must be protected is also in reporting guidelines adopted by many of South Africa’s media.

Publishing details that would humiliate a child or expose that child to ridicule or abuse violates a child’s right to dignity and privacy.

Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) is concerned that in reporting the case of these two children, some media failed in their obligations to minimise the potential harm that their reporting could cause to these two girls.

On a positive note, others, including The Times and The Citizen, have demonstrated great care in reporting this case, and are examples of how a balance can be struck between reporting an important story and upholding the rights of our most vulnerable citizens, our children.

MMA has written a commentary that outlines some of the examples of best and worst practice in reporting on children that have emerged from the coverage of this story.

MMA hopes that by highlighting media’s responsibilities to children and by giving examples of how it is possible to report difficult stories involving children without violating their rights, it will encourage journalists and editors to strive for the highest possible standards when it comes to reporting on children.

For more information please contact

William Bird
Director & Ashoka Fellow
Media Monitoring Africa
(Formerly Media Monitoring Project)
Mobile: +2782 887 1370
Tel: +2711 788 1278


Laura Fletcher
Advocacy and Research Officer
Media Monitoring Africa
(formerly: Media Monitoring Project)
Tel: +2711 788 1278
Fax: +2711 788 1289
Cell: +2773 0463404