Two stories published in the Sowetan “Bullies douse boy (12) with benzine, set him on fire” (28/04/2010, p. 2) and The Star “Teens accused of setting 12-year-old alight” (30/04/2010, p. 2),about a 12-year-old who was set on fire by two 15-year-old bullies are ones to be mad of. In both articles the victim was identified.

The articles protected the identity of the perpetrators who are both under the age of 18. This is good journalistic practice but, a similar principle also applies to victims of abuse. The stories should have protected the identity of the victim. Identifying the victim could expose the child to further trauma and intimidation (as he is both a victim and a witness).

The identification of child witnesses is illegal according to the Criminal Procedures Act [1]. The Criminal Procedure Act clearly specifies that the identity of a child witness should not be revealed, either directly or indirectly, when charges have been laid, or are likely to be laid.

In addition, it is not clear what ethical justification can be given for the identification of the victim, as the details of the abuse he suffered are now in the public domain. This seems to constitute an additional violation of his privacy and dignity.

The United Convention on the Rights of the Child, which South Africa is a signatory to, states that the best interests of the child are paramount in any matter concerning the child. This ethical principle should underlie journalistic practice.


[1] The Criminal Procedure Act, Section 153(3): “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”