DURBAN - 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 it 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 should 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 was necessary, even after they turned 18, in order to prevent significant and lifelong harm that came from revealing their true identities.
The twofold case stemmed from the Nurse issue. She discovered at the age of 17 years and nine months that she had been kidnapped as a baby.
“She noticed that the media said they would reveal her ‘true’ identity when she turned 18. Zephany did not want to have her identity revealed.
“She asked the centre for assistance,” said the centre.
An urgent high court application was made and resulted in an order, granted in April 2015, which protected her identity.
The order remains until all appeals in this case are exhausted.
The centre said its expert evidence showed that children who were victims of crime suffered 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, explained that identification can retraumatise children and undo the long-term healing process.
The second part of the case argued for the protection of the identity of child offenders.
The centre submitted that children had lesser moral responsibility for what they did or what happened 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.