The article published in Sunday Sun (28/06/09, p. 6), “Young girl stripped of her womanhood”, is one to get mad about. The article directly identifies a minor whose womb was allegedly removed without her permission, giving graphic details This violates her right to privacy 1and dignity as it will now be public knowledge what happened to her.
Identifying the child could expose her to victimization and stigma, and was not necessary for the story.
The girl’s dignity and privacy were further violated when the details of what occurred in hospital were exposed. The article describes how “her womb became septic…after her swollen belly button burst…oozing puss”. Such details may expose the child to shame and embarrassment, evident in the photograph published which shows the child covering her face whilst crying.
Although it could be argued that the child’s mother, or possibly the child herself, might have taken the story to Sunday Sun, the reporter should have taken it upon herself to protect the identity, privacy and dignity of the child.
The headline is inappropriate as it reinforces gender stereotyping that a female is not a woman if she cannot bear children. The word “stripped” in the headline also suggests that the woman is being undressed, and may reinforce the loss of dignity already experienced by the child.
The age of the child in the article and in the caption is inconsistent. In the article, it states that the child is 16 years old and in the caption it states that she is 17 years old. This shows a lack of attention to detail, on the part of the editor and/reporter.
It is excellent for Sunday Sun to bring attention to this story. As the Guidelines of the International Federation of Journalists (1998) state:
“Media organisations should regard the violation of the rights of children and issues relating to children’s safety, privacy, security, education, health and social welfare and all forms of exploitation as important questions for investigation and public debate…”
However, the reporter should have done so in a more responsible manner, which protected the identity and dignity of the child. The article could also have gone further by investigating more who is responsible, and at what level, as well as what recourse is available – aside from that suggested by the Democratic Alliance.
Reporters need to be extremely careful when reporting on children, especially in relation to issues of of privacy, dignity and identification.
1The right to protection of privacy is specified in Article 16 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which South Africa is a signatory to. For a summary see UNICEF and Media Monitoring Project. 2003. All sides of the story. Reporting on children: A journalist’s handbook, p. 64.
NB. The name of the child has been concealed by MMA to protect her identity.