Two child witnesses were identified in an article by The Times, entitled ”’Police’ rough justice” 1(26/10/2009, p. 6), about a military officer allegedly beaten up with his family. The article was consequently selected for a MAD OAT Mad nomination.
In the article, the officer claimed that he was outside his home with his nine-year-old son when 17 armed men and a woman, whom he believed were officers, accosted him. The accused – who were looking for his elder son – allegedly went inside the house and attacked his wife and 17-year old daughter. Reportedly, charges are being laid.
The article directly identified the nine-year old by providing his name and indirectly identified his sister by naming their father – the officer. Other details such as the area where family lives are also provided.
It is clear that criminal proceedings are taking place, especially as charges are being laid. This makes both the children involved child witnesses as they were present at the time the alleged crime took place.
Legislation prohibits identifying, directly or indirectly, child witnesses. Providing this information contravenes Section 154(3) of the Criminal Procedure Act of 1977 which states: “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.”
This legislation is in place to protect the best interests of the child, including from potential harm. When a child is in involved in criminal proceedings, s/he should be able to carry on with their lives without being exposed to threats or intimidation, from the perpetrators or those who may have an interest in the outcome of the case.
Media Monitoring Africa again urges The Times to protect the welfare and rights of child witnesses. In reporting on crime, the safety and rights of children should be prioritised.
1 MMA has concealed any details which may directly or indirectly identify the child witnesses.
Editor’s note: The Times were given the opportunity to respond by email, but no response was received.