Celeste Nurse in hospital with Zephany before she was abducted.

Cape Town - Children who are victims, witnesses, or accused of crimes are vulnerable and if their identities are revealed in the media or in other public forums, they face severe and lifelong harm.

These are submissions made by the Centre for Child Law at the Constitutional Court where they argued on behalf of Zephany Nurse, Media Monitoring Africa, Childline and the National Institute for Crime Prevention and the Reintegration of Offenders.

The organisations are submitting that Section 154 (3) of the Criminal Procedure Act be found to be unconstitutional and invalid. 

Section 154 (3) 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 (victim) at criminal proceedings who is under the age of (18).”

The centre argued that protection of the identities of children involved is necessary, even after they turn 18, in order to prevent significant and lifelong harm that comes from revealing their “true identities”. 

The two-fold case stemmed from the Zephany Nurse issue. Nurse discovered at the age of 17 years and 9 months that she had been kidnapped as a baby.

“She noticed that the media said they would reveal her ‘true’ identity (the name the women who allegedly kidnapped her gave her) when she turned 18 years. Zephany did not want to have her identity revealed. She asked the centre for assistance,” said the centre in a statement.

An urgent High Court application was made and resulted in an order, granted in April 2015, which protected her identity. The order remains protected until all appeals in this case are exhausted.

The centre in its arguments said its expert evidence showed that children who are victims of crime suffer a range of psychological harms by being identified in the media and through the threat of identification, including further trauma, stigma, shame and fear.

“These psychological harms affect child victims’ ability to recover and return to normal life. Dr Del Fabbro, an expert in child psychology, explains that identification can re-traumatise children and undo the long-term healing process.

“The threat of being identified in the media can also discourage the reporting of crimes against children and discourage child victims from co-operating with investigators,” it stated in court papers.

The second part of the case argued for the protection of the identity of child offenders, too.

The centre submitted that children have lesser moral responsibility for what they do or what happens to them in childhood.

“For this reason, it is impermissible to unduly punish an offender for actions in their childhood. There is equally a need to protect child victims and witnesses from the consequences of crimes committed against them or in their presence, for which they are blameless. 

“These victims and witnesses must be given the same prospect of ‘hope and possibility’ that is afforded to child offenders,” the centre submitted.

@Zoey_Dano

[email protected]

Cape Argus