In early 2015, there was a story in the media about a child victim known as Zephany Nurse, although this is not her real name. A woman had allegedly kidnapped her from the hospital in which she was born and subsequently raised her as her own child. It was only once Zephany was 17 years and 9 months of age that her biological parents found her and that DNA tests proved she was their child.
The facts of the story were unusual and as such, the media wanted to publish all the information about it, including the identity of the child concerned. However, the child did not want her identity to be made public.There is a law that protects the identity of children who are witnesses in criminal matters. The law does not specifically say that the law applies to children who are victims in criminal matters. It is important to establish whether a child who is a victim of a crime is protected by this law or not.
For several decades, this law was interpreted to mean that the protection of the child’s identity lasts after they turn 18 years of age. More recently, however, the media has begun to interpret the law to mean that when children turn 18 years of age, they are no longer protected by that law and their identity can be made public. Journalists were threatening to make Zephany’s identity public once she turned 18 years old. She obtained the services of lawyers at the Centre for Child Law, a law clinic. On 21 April 2015, the court gave an order which prohibited the media from publishing her identity. This protection continues, pending a court hearing which will determine the ambit of the law. The hearing occurs in the Pretoria High Court on Thursday 9 January 2017 and Friday 10 January 2017.