The impact of gang violence on children is a huge concern especially as many of their innocent lives are lost during gunfight crossfire, according to media reports. Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) gives Mail and Guardian a MAD[1] for identifying a child who was injured during a suspected gang shooting. The journalist directly identifies the child thereby compromising his safety and well-being.

The article, “Cape Flats gangsters, children die in fight over turf” (23/07/2021, p.12-13) is about gang violence in the Cape Town communities which has claimed the lives of many people including children. The journalist starts the article with examples of children who either died or were injured in the violence and one of the children who survived is directly identified.  According to the story, this seven-year-old boy was shot when numerous gunshots were fired at his home.  The article reports that the attack “was apparently a case of mistaken identity.” The child’s street name is also revealed in the article and so is his mother’s identity.

The journalist’s irresponsibility that resulted in the identity of the child being revealed has the potential to expose the child to further harm. The article does not give further details of whether the matter is under police investigation or if any arrests have been made. However, there is the potential that this case is already being investigated or might be investigated in future. This means that the child is a potential witness at criminal proceedings and therefore, revealing his identity has potentially put him at risk of being harmed to be kept from testifying. Further, the child might be harmed again if it turns out that his shooting was not “a case of mistaken identity”. This therefore means that the journalist should have been more cautious in their reporting to not identify the child or his mother as doing so flouted the Criminal Procedure Act Section 154 (3) which provides protection for both victims of crime and witnesses.[2]

MMA’s Editorial Guidelines and Principles for Reporting on Children in the Media[3] urge the media to refrain from identifying children in such instances stating, “Even when you are trying to tell people about harm to children or another children’s issue or promote children’s rights, you always need to protect the best interest of the individual child.” The best interest of the child principle is supported by Section 28.2 of the Bill of Rights of the South African Constitution.

While we appreciate Mail and Guardian for reporting on issues that affect children, especially this issue that is taking children’s lives and jeopardizing their future, we urge the publication to be extra cautious and protect the identities of child victims of or witnesses to crimes.

Written by Girlie Sibanda

Edited by Lister Namumba

[1] MADs are given to journalists for irresponsible reporting that compromises children’s safety


[3] (See page 2)