Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) gives a GLAD[ to IOL, for its story involving a child who survived a genital mutilation attack and was portrayed positively and in a manner that protected his identity.
“Boy survives horror attack and sends his assailants to jail” (IOL, 03/02/2018) reports that the 13-year-old boy was “lured” into a walk by his neighbours when upon reaching an open field, they strangled him. According to the article, when the child regained his consciousness, he found his genitals had been removed. The boy was then rushed to hospital and was later able to identify his perpetrators. The journalist, Shain Germaner, reports that in spite of what the child went through, he was able to testify as the “star witness” against the men who attacked him, resulting in a conviction of attempted murder and kidnapping.
Even though he had to face his perpetrators in court, it is reported that he was never intimidated. A prosecutor is quoted saying about the child, “He was incredible. Better than many adult witnesses I’ve worked with. [He] stuck to his guns, and told the court everything.” This statement, together with those from other sources including the urologist who speaks of the boy’s motivation to move on with his life are a deliberate effort by the journalist to portray him in a brave and positive way.
This kind of reporting is in line with MMA’s Editorial Guidelines and Principles for Reporting on Children in the Media which advise the media to “challenge negative stereotypes about children and conventional roles children occupy in the media (e.g. helpless victims)” as these stereotypes are “harmful” for children. This is especially important for children who have gone through traumatic ordeals as it empowers them by showing them as survivors and not victims, a role which can be negative and leave children feeling helpless.
Also worth noting is the fact that throughout the article, the boy was never interviewed and only his mother and experts were accessed. By not interviewing him, the journalist avoided subjecting the child to further trauma. Subjecting children to secondary trauma through interviews extends their healing process as they have to relive their ordeal.
Furthermore, the identity of the child was sufficiently protected with pseudonyms being used in place of his and his mother’s names. Accompanying photographs where the child appears were also silhouetted in order to hide his identity. By withholding the child’s identity both pictorially and in print, IOL protected him from potential harm such as retribution and adhered to Sections 2 and 3 of its press code. MMA commends IOL for taking extra precautions in reporting this story. We look forward to reading more of such stories where children occupy empowering roles and are protected.
By Msizi Mzolo
 A GLAD refers to an article where the rights and welfare of children have been promoted