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On Friday, the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein ruled that underage victims cannot have their personal details published by the media. This extends to child witnesses and child offenders.
In a statement, Media Monitoring Africa’s William Bird said the issue was brought to the fore in the case of Zephany Nurse, a child who discovered at the age of 17 years and nine months, that she had been kidnapped as a baby.
Afraid that the identity she had grown up with would be revealed, she turned to the Centre for Child Law for assistance.
“An urgent High Court application resulted in an order, granted in April 2015, which protected her identity – which remains protected until all appeals, in this case, are exhausted.”
Zephany Nurse, who turned 18 in April 2015, was abducted from hospital two days after she was born in 1997. The woman she had grown up believing was her mother was arrested and charged with kidnapping and the case garnered international attention.
But while the Centre for Child Law hoped the protection of the identities of child victims of crime would be protected beyond the age of 18, this was dismissed because of the restrictions it places on media to impart information and because of infringements on the open justice principle.
The SCA ruled, however, that section 154(3) is constitutionally invalid as it doesn’t protect identities of child victims during criminal proceedings.
It has given parliament two years to remedy the invalidity and in the meantime the section should read: “No person shall publish in any manner whatever any information which reveals or may reveal the identity of an accused under the age of 18 years or of a victim or of a witness at criminal proceedings who is under the age of 18 years: Provided that the presiding judge or judicial officer may authorise the publication of so much of such information as he may deem fit the publication thereof would in his opinion be just and equitable and in the interest of any person.”
The Centre for Child Law believes the protection should extend to beyond 18 years to “prevent significant and life-long harms”.
“The evidence placed before [the] court showed that identification of children’s identities can have a catastrophic impact on their lives. The following harms can result: trauma and regression; stigma; shame; and the fear of being identified. The CCL does not discourage the media from reporting cases. It discourages reporting that identifies child victims, witnesses, and offenders before and after they turn 18 years old as such reporting has long-lasting negative consequences. The CCL is of the view that for children to fully benefit from having their identity protected when they are under 18 years, this protection should extend to after they turn 18 years of age in order to prevent significant and life-long harms”.