A number of articles published in different newspapers identified a child witness following a story widely reported in the media, involving a father who killed his young daughter and committed suicide thereafter. The articles are therefore selected as Mad Oat Mads.
They are: “Man kills baby daughter, suicides”, (The Times, 16/08/2010, p. 7); “Father strangles baby, hangs himself”, (The Star, 16/08/2010, p. 2); “Lovers’ tiff tragedy”, (Sowetan, 16/08/2010, p. 6); and “Women’s month has no teeth” (Sowetan, 17/08/2010, p. 8).
According to the articles, the father allegedly assaulted his wife following an argument. He then strangled his two daughters, a teenager and six-month or six-year-old (there were discrepancies regarding the younger child’s age). The younger child died while the teenager survived the attack, the articles reported.
The names of both the father and mother were provided in all the articles, resulting in the children, particularly the teenage girl, being indirectly identified.
Considering that the child went through the trauma of witnessing violence within her family and the additional pain of experiencing the death of her younger sibling, identifying her in the media is certainly not in her best interest as it may subject her to the trauma again.
Identifying the child also contravenes Section 154(3) of the Criminal Procedure Act which states:
“No person shall publish in any manner whatever information which reveals or may reveal the identity of the accused under the age of 18 years or of a witness at criminal proceedings who is under the age of 18 years.”
Although the father (the alleged perpetrator) is dead, the teenage girl is both a victim and a witness to a crime.
Two articles reporting on different stories also identified child witnesses.
The first story “Three council bosses held over murder”, (The Star, 19/08/2010, p. 3) reported on three senior municipal workers who were arrested by Mpumalanga police for masterminding the murder of a whistle-blowing politician.
The article reported that “[The politician] was executed in front of his wife and young children by two hitmen on May 4, when he answered a knock on the door of his [_] hostel room in [_].” The article therefore indirectly identified the child by naming his father (the politician).
The second story “Help for 3 after horror”, (Daily Sun, 27/08/2010, p. 16) reported on children who witnessed their father “beating their mum into a coma before committing suicide.”
The article further provided the names of the three children (two are under the age of 18) and the name of their village and town. Again, this was not in their best interest as it may subject them to the trauma again.
Identifying child witnesses is a cause for concern. Section 154(3) of the Criminal Procedure Act is there to protect children who witness crimes so that they can carry on with their lives without fear of intimidation among other things.
Media need to exercise caution when reporting on these children and avoid contravening legislation and possibly subjecting these children to further trauma.