Durban - The 4-year-old girl, whose abuse was captured in a viral video, has been moved to a private room and is under 24 hour protection after someone took a photo of her in hospital and made it public.
The photo, which has also been used on an NGO’s video appeal for donations for her, exposes her identity.
The child's mother and her boyfriend were arrested and charged with attempted murder. They are not being named to protect the identity of the child.
Attorney Kelvin Walker, who is acting for the child's biological father, said his client had been concerned about the picture of the child circulating on social media.
“My client is extremely concerned about that picture and it circulating on social media. First of all it's illegal, you never take a picture of a child who has been abused. But the hospital has been very supportive. Now she's in a separate (hospital) room and her visitors are being closely monitored, which my client is very happy about even though it also affects him,” said Walker.
Jackie Branfield, founder of Operation Bobbi Bear, warned that exposing the child's identity was like putting her through the abuse all over again.
“The child has to grow up in her community and people will always point her out as the girl who was abused. Other children will comment and call her names because they have all seen her pictures, or her being beaten, on social media. How will that make her feel? She may never be able to put this behind her because those images will always be on social media,” she said.
Branfield said the child needed to be protected from reliving the trauma of the ordeal which already would affect her future.
“Her privacy is completely being violated. What I can say is that, if you care about this child, stop circulating her picture, stop it right now.”
This was echoed by Alvin Brijlal, founder of the Victims Outreach Information Centre (Voice), who reported the abuse to police after receiving an anonymous tip-off.
He said most people sharing the photos of the girl did not have malicious intent.
A poster, calling on the public to picket outside court at the accused's next hearing, also has the child's photograph.
“There are other ways to raise awareness, people need to understand that sharing her photo is secondary trauma,” said Brijlal.
Professor Ann Skelton, the director of the Centre for Child Law at the University of Pretoria, and member of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, said exposing the child's identity was illegal. “Where there is a criminal matter, the identity of a person under 18 (years old) is protected by law.”
Referring to a recent Pretoria High Court judgment which confirms and clarifies this, Skelton said, while the video had possibly led to the child being saved, it being shared as “public property” was a violation.
“One has to protect child victims for their recovery and for them to become whole again, as it were. It can become a second violation. You have to ask yourselves if you'd feel comfortable if your image was being circulated after you have suffered abuse,” said Skelton.
This had become especially problematic with the advent of social media, she said.
“While before, revealing an identity was a decision to be made by people who applied their minds and had to grapple with the reasons in a newsroom or by a documentary film-maker and such, the development of social media made it a 'free for all',” she said.