Naming children who are victims‚ witnesses and perpetrators amounts to shaming‚ court hears

09 February 2017 - 14:57 By Sipho Mabena

The High Court in Pretoria has heard how identifying children who are victims‚ witnesses and perpetrators of crime was shaming‚ traumatic and detrimental to their rehabilitation.

Image: Times Media Group

The focal point is section 154(3) of the Criminal Procedure Act which prohibits the publication of anything leading to the identification of witnesses and offenders under 18 years of age.

At issue is whether the interpretation of this section by the media‚ that the identification protection of such children expired when they turned 18 years of age‚ was consistent with the constitutional right to privacy.

Children rights lobby groups Centre for Child Law (CCL)‚ Childline‚ Nicro and Media Monitoring Africa approached the court to rule that the current law infringes the relevant constitutional rights to privacy.

The lobby groups seek to protect the privacy‚ dignity and best interests of children who may be victims‚ witnesses or offenders in crimes.

On Thursday‚ advocate Steven Budlender SC‚ for the lobby groups‚ argued that children who were victims and witnesses of crime suffered significant trauma following the crime.

He said it was in the children's best interest of recovery‚ and in some cases rehabilitation‚ for their rights to privacy and dignity to be respected and protected.

“Why would the child suffer shame because they have been victims of crime?” Budlender asked.

He made mention of a minor‚ 15 at the time‚ who was tried for the murder of Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging leader Eugene Terreblanche in 2010.

Budlender said that once he turned 18‚ his name was revealed and his picture splashed in newspapers.

“He was acquitted… that makes matters even worse. It is not hard to imagine anything more adverse‚” he said.

The media houses opposing the matter - Media 24‚ Independent Media and the Times Media Group - argue that freedom of expression outweighs the rights of children‚ and that victims should not be included under the protective clause unless they are called as witnesses.

The media groups further argue that the anonymity protection for all categories should end at 18 years of age.

Budlender suggested a number of options to untangle the legal dilemma in the interpretation of the law.

He said one option was for the court to interpret the provision constitutionally – to uphold the children’s right to have their best interests considered paramount and to have their dignity and privacy protected and respected.

Budlender said if the provision was not flexible enough to be interpreted in line with the constitution‚ then the court will be asked to strike the provision down and to send the matter back to the legislature to consider the matter afresh.

The legal wrangle was sparked by the court case involving the kidnap victim teenager who became known as Zephany Nurse. During the trial‚ media threatened to reveal her true identity once she had turned 18.

But CCL would have none of it. The lobby group intervened and swiftly obtained an interdict stopping the media from identifying her once she turned 18.

TMG Digital/TimesLIVE