Pretoria - In a victory for the media, the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria ruled on Tuesday that all child offenders, victims and witnesses may be identified once they have turned 18.
The various media houses, including Independent Media, scored this victory following an application by the Centre for Child Law, Childline South Africa and the young woman who became known to the country as Zephany Nurse, to protect the identities of children even after they had turned 18.
The applicant, however, scored a partial victory after the court declared that child victims who are under the age of 18, may not be named. As the law stood in the past, these children could have been identified.
Judge Wendy Hughes, however, made it clear that Zephany, or KL as she is referred to in court papers, may not be identified at this stage, pending the outcome of any appeals following this judgment.
Head of the Centre for Child Law, Professor Ann Skelton, said that they will appeal the judgment, other than the order affording protection to child victims under the age of 18.
Skelton said they will launch proceedings for leave to appeal as soon as possible, as these issues deal with children and had to be resolved as soon as possible.
Once the applicants have instituted appeal proceedings, Judge Hughes's order will be suspended, pending the outcome of the appeal proceedings.
The application was sparked by Zephany, who said she lived in fear each day that the “paparazzi” will one day release pictures they took of her, depicting what she looks like today.
According to her, she has been hounded by photographers since it came to light that she was abducted from hospital shortly after her birth. She was 17 years and nine months old when her biological parents found her.
As she was under 18, she was protected under the law from having her identity revealed. She, however, feared that the moment she turned 18, her face would be splashed all over the media.
Although a court has interdicted the media from revealing her true identity pending the final outcome of the legal battle between the children rights groups and the media houses, KL wondered if she will ever be able to live a normal life as the media follow her around.
Judge Hughes said in her judgment that it is our Constitutional duty as society and the courts to protect the rights of children.
“Though the best interests of the child are of paramount importance, this does not trump other rights as protected by the Bill of Rights and the Constitution,” she said.
The applicants wanted the Criminal Procedure Act extended, as to have a blanket protection for these children once they have turned 18.
Judge Hughes said: “I am of the view that there cannot be open ended protection in favour of children, even into adulthood. This, in my view, would violate the rights of other parties and the other rights of the children themselves when the are adults."
She said as the Act now stood, children were afforded sufficient protection, apart from in the case of victims under the age of 18.