How the media protects minors in South Africa

In South Africa, the laws protecting children are clear and firm.
In South Africa, the laws protecting children are clear and firm.

In South Africa, the laws protecting children are clear and firm. A child is anyone under 18 years of age, and minors are protected by a number of laws in a number of ways.

But when it comes to the media, these laws and lines may become blurred when certain issues are addressed or when all the facts are not yet evident. 

So while debate over whether or not to name an 18-year-old student caught in a school sex scandal may rage in the newsroom, for example, when it comes down to children's rights the relevant laws and recommendations are as follows: 

Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 - Chapter 2: Bill of Rights

2. Section 28.2 of the Bill of Rights in the South African Constitution says: “A child’s best interests are of paramount importance in every matter concerning the child.”

3. A “child” is a person under the age of 18 years.

The Criminal Procedure Act 

Section 154(3) of the Criminal Procedure Act states only that no person shall publish information which may reveal the identity of an accused or of a witness at criminal proceedings who is under the age of 18.

The Media Law Handbook for Southern Africa 2

Some legal statutes contain provisions which appear to undermine the media’s right to publish information, such as those that prohibit the publication of certain kinds of information, including identities of minors in court proceedings.

For example, in a departure from the general rule providing for court proceedings to take place in open court Section 7(2) of the Subordinate Courts Order, 1988, provides that the trial of any person who is under 18 may be held in camera, meaning without the public or the media in attendance. 

Part III of the Content Regulations, which deals with programme content in Section 9 says the identity of minors who are victims any crime shall not be divulged.

The Press Code of Ethics and Conduct for South African Print and Online Media 

8. Children

In the spirit of Section 28.2 of the Bill of Rights, the media shall:

8.1 exercise exceptional care and consideration when reporting about children. If there is any chance that coverage might cause harm of any kind to a child, he or she shall not be interviewed, photographed or identified without the consent of a legal guardian or of a similarly responsible adult and the child (taking into consideration the evolving capacity of the child); and a public interest is evident;

8.2 not publish child pornography*; and

8.3 not identify children who have been victims of abuse or exploitation, or who have been charged with or convicted of a crime, without the consent of their legal guardians (or a similarly responsible adult) and the child (taking into consideration the evolving capacity of the child), a public interest is evident, and it is in the best interests of the child.

*Child Pornography is defined in the Film and Publications Act as:
“Any visual image or any description of a person, real or simulated, however created, who is or who is depicted or described as being, under the age of 18 years, explicitly depicting such a person who is or who is being depicted as engaged or participating in sexual conduct; engaged in an explicit display of genitals; participating in or assisting another person to participate in sexual conduct which, judged within context, has as its predominant objective purpose, the stimulation of sexual arousal in its target audience or showing or describing the body or parts of the body of the person in a manner or circumstance which, in context, amounts to sexual exploitation.

In Children’s Rights and The Media: A Resource for Journalists, UNICEF encourages journalists to cover children’s issues in a way that:

• will be informative and challenging, rather than sensational;

• portrays children’s issues more accurately, with greater depth;

• considers children as important subjects for the media;

• respects children as productive citizens;

• enables children to contribute a greater voice in the media. 

For more on children's rights, read Parent24 here or sign up to our newsletter: 

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Compiled for Parent24 by Elizabeth Mamacos 

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