The Sowetan newspaper is given a MAD by Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) for a series of four articles the publication wrote on child rape and teenage pregnancy in and around the Gauteng province. The MAD is given to the Sowetan because the publication accessed the children, an action potentially retraumatising them.
“Girl (16) pregnant after ‘rape by neighbour’” (Sowetan, 19/08/2021, p.2), “I had sex because of peer pressure – young mom” (Sowetan, 19/08/21, p.2), “My friends told me how cool sex was – teen mom” (Sowetan, 19/08/2021, p.3) and, “Girls left holding babies as dads walk away” (Sowetan, 19/08/2021, p.3) all report on girls who, whilst under the age of 18, engaged in sex/sexual intercourse or were raped and subsequently fell pregnant.
The journalists undertook this task from different angles, highlighting the many possible reasons for the scourge of teenage pregnancies, especially after Gauteng Health MEC, Nomathemba Mokgethi revealed that a figure of more than 23 000 teenage pregnancies were recorded in the province between April 2020 and March 2021, with 934 girls between the ages of 10 and 14 giving birth. According to the articles, some of the reasons for engaging in sex so early and/or falling pregnant as a result, was because of peer pressure, curiosity and wanting to have fun and also having been raped. This kind of focus on children and on this issue in particular is a rarity in mainstream media and as such should be commended, considering that the identities of the children were also protected.
However, the journalists in all four articles flouted one of the important rules to follow when reporting on children, to promote the children’s best interest and minimise harm when going about gathering the story. In these articles, the journalists accessed the children, asking them questions relating to their experiences, all of which constitute rape.
In the article, “Girl (16) pregnant after ‘rape by neighbour’”, the child in question, as the headline suggests, was raped by a neighbor. However, the journalist interviewed the child, asking for comment on and about this ordeal. In the article, “My friends told me how cool sex was – teen mom”, the teenage mother was 14 years (today 17 years) when she started engaging in sexual activity whilst in the other article titled, “I had sex because of peer pressure – young mom”, the young mother is only 15 years old and is raising the baby alone. Given that these girls were so young when this happened, and that they are still young today, the probability of these “sexual activities” being rape is quite high, even if the boyfriends/father-of-babies were themselves school-going teenagers.
The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters Act) stipulates clearly that only a two-year gap in considered legal and permissible between two minors who engage in consensual sex depending on whether they are of a consenting age. In the article, “Girls left holding babies as dads walk away”, Dineo [pseudonym given in article] was 15 years old and in grade nine when she fell pregnant, although she says she’s been sexually active since the age of 12 years. Very little is said about the father of the child or hints to his age. In the same article, another unnamed 15-year-old teen mom was accessed and asked similar questions asked to Dineo, thereby retraumatising the two girls.
This is not in any way to say that journalists should not access children who’ve encountered traumatic experiences, but rather to suggest that they do so when the children have received adequate counselling and/or in the presence of a qualified counsellor. As mentioned above, the focus on issues plaguing children in South Africa, and for Sowetan to undertake such a task is commendable. Only that next time, take careful consideration to minimize harm and do all in the best interest of the child.
Written by Azola Dayile
Edited by Lister Namumba
 MADs are given to journalists for irresponsible reporting that subjects children to potential harm.
 https://pmg.org.za/committee-meeting/19971/ (See Teddy Bear case)