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Sowetan compromises rights of abducted children

15 July 2016

Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) gives a MAD   to Sowetan for its article titled “Missing boys back home” (30/06/2016, p.2) for identifying children who had been abducted thereby potentially compromising their safety while flouting its own editorial policy.

The article is about two young boys who were allegedly kidnapped and forced into an illegal initiation school near Weillersfarm, south of Johannesburg. The boys were abducted while on their way back home by a group of men who grabbed and threw them into a truck. One of the boys was quoted saying, “Inside the truck, the men assaulted us with open hands and covered us with a blanket. They ordered us to remain silent while they beat us“. The article states that the boys managed to escape a day after they were captured and were later found by the police and safely returned to their homes. A case has reportedly been opened and investigations are still underway to find the abductors.

Sowetan named and photographed the two boys and one of their parents and further interviewed the boys for comments on their experience. The children also mentioned that if they saw the abductors again in the future, they would be able to identify them. The article gets a MAD because in the telling of this socially relevant story regarding the growing trend of abducting young boys in the wake of the circumcision season, Sowetan didn’t take into full account the potential consequences of identifying and interviewing children in this context. Considering that the children in question are both victims and witnesses to a crime and the alleged kidnappers are still at large, Sowetan grossly violated its own editorial policy which states, “We undertake to consider the consequences of our reporting to children, and to take steps, where appropriate, to minimise the harm … We will always protect the identities of children who have been victims or perpetrators of sexual abuse or exploitation; and those who have been charged or convicted of a crime or been a witness to a crime.”

The journalist also placed the children in a situation where they had to relive their traumatic experience by interviewing them thereby potentially subjecting them to further trauma.

MMA acknowledges that when reporting on news involving children, journalists often struggle to find a balance between the need to inform and educate the public on social issues and the legal structures surrounding children’s rights, particularly in the media. Therefore we encourage Sowetan to take the necessary caution when reporting on children and ensure it strives to promote the best interests of the child in order to ensure that their rights are protected and minimal harm is caused.

We would like to see more articles from

that reflect cognisance of its editorial policy and constitutional responsibility towards children.

By Phakamile Khumalo

1 MADs refer to articles where the rights and welfare of children have been compromised through irresponsible media coverage