Sowetan (“I saw my step dad rape my cousin”, 16/04/09, p. 8 and “[ ] in maintenance row”, 23/04/09, p. 3) and The Citizen (“Accused of raping his grandchild”, 07/04/09, p. 6)1 shared the MAD OAT Mad nomination this week, for indirectly identifying children who were either witnesses to crime, or involved in a maintenance case. Two of the stories involved allegations of statutory rape.
The article by Sowetan (“I saw my step dad rape my cousin”, 16/04/09 p.8), is not in the best interest of the child who was allegedly raped by her cousin’s step-father.
It provides the name and age of the alleged perpetrator. Due to this identification, and the child’s relationship with the step-daughter, this child could be indirectly identified, at least by the local community.
The article is extremely graphic, including the 18-year old cousin’s description of exactly what she heard and saw. Providing these details, together with indirectly identifying the child, violates the child’s right to privacy2. These explicit details might make the child feel embarrassed, humiliated and violated as people around her may know exactly what happened to her. They may also bring back very bad memories for her.
Significantly, as the child is a witness to a crime, providing details which may reveal her identity contravenes Section 154 (3) of the Criminal Procedure Act. This 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.”
The Citizen‘s article, “Accused of raping his grandchild” (07/04/09 p. 6) provides the name of the policeman arrested for allegedly raping a minor family member. While the article draws attention to cases of those in positions of responsibility violating children’s rights, it was unnecessary to publish the name of the policeman. Providing these details could reveal the identity of the child, or at least draw unnecessary attention to minor family members, who may be associated with the story. This violates their rights to privacy. The article should have just said that it was a high profile police officer instead of using his name.
Children should also be protected when publishing stories about divorce or maintenance cases.Sowetan’s “[ ] in maintenance row” (23/04/09, p.3) is about a high profile multi millionaire allegedly not paying maintenance for his children. The article provides the full name and picture of the father, which indirectly identifies the children. Publishing these details is not in the best interest of the children as they might feel neglected and humiliated, as people find out about the case, and may suffer victimisation from peers.
More specifically, Section 36 of the Maintenance Act 99 of 1998 states: “No person shall publish in any manner whatsoever the name or address of any person under the age of 18 years who is or was involved in any proceedings at a maintenance enquiry or the name of his or her school or any other information likely to reveal the identity of that person.” The only exception is where the Minister or presiding officer allows it and “if he or she is of the opinion that the publication of information about the child would be just and in his or her interest”. Providing the names of the parents reveals the identity of the children, and so contravenes the Maintenance Act 99 of 1998.
While it is important to hold members of society to account in their responsibilities towards children, this should not be at the expense of a child’s rights to protection, privacy and dignity. It is extremely important in both crime and maintenance cases to protect the identity of the children involved. One way this could be done is through the use of pseudonyms, although caution is needed to avoid providing too many other details which could indirectly identity the children.
1 Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) has concealed any names and faces that may indirectly reveal the identity of the children concerned.
2 The 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