Think before you post a picture of a child.

Opinion - Technological advancement has brought about many advantages and opportunities as the universe marches into the 21st century.

However, it has exponentially increased the threat to the lives of children, especially young girls, through social media.

Every day I see many lovely photographs of children on people's individual social media pages, many of them parents and close family members so proud of their children and wanting to share their love and joy through this media; others are good Samaritans, community workers, corporates or non-governmental organisations wanting to use social media platforms to market their organisations, raise funding and promote the rights of children.

However, we have to ask ourselves: Are we putting the lives of our children and children in communities at risk?

While many adults are happily posting pictures advertising their actions in assisting communities, I am reminded of these great people - Mother Teresa and Don Bosco, spiritual and divine leaders who have passed on and I ask myself this question, did they advertise their own work, and the answer is no.

None of these people advertised what they were doing to improve the lives of their fellow human beings.

The people started talking about their greatness and their work spread through their deeds.

Of concern is the fact that many people are not aware of the laws and regulations that govern the rights of children especially related to the use of images of children in publications and social media.

What does the Children's Act say about using images of children?

We have to look at the various international and South African regulations that protect the rights of children.

* The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

* The Children's Act 38 of 2005 as amended.

* Sexual Offences Act.

* Section 28 of our Constitution, which pertains to children.

Our constitution clearly states that: A child's best interests are of paramount importance in every matter concerning the child.

It is important to note that all of them have similar regulations in that:

* Child protection is both an individual and a corporate responsibility.

* All children have equal rights to protection from abuse and exploitation and inequalities should be challenged.

* The welfare of children is paramount.

* Everyone must take precautions and responsibility to help create a safe place for children and support their care and protection. This begins with everyone being well informed and aware of child protection issues.

* Organisations and networks owe a duty of care to the children with whom they work and a responsibility to meet minimum standards of protection for the children in their care.

* Of note, we need to look at the this particular regulation which states: “The best interest of the child” is of paramount importance and will be prioritised in all matters related to child protection.

We all need to understand that:

* The online world is not separate from the off-line world. There is no set of different laws that apply online. The law, which applies in our everyday lives applies online.

* And South African law is clear that when publication occurs every single person, who is directly or indirectly responsible for the publication can be held legally liable for it.

The Journalism Act also states that all photographs and visual imagery will accurately portray and not sensationalise the situation of children and this includes visual images that:

* Does not respect the dignity and self-worth of the child.

* Is exploitative or manipulative as far as the subject is concerned (e.g. asking the child to cry for the photo).

* Misleads the viewer as to the actual situation of the subject of the image (e.g. labelling children as HIV orphans).

* Distorts reality or does not accurately reflect reality.

* Discloses personal information about the child or family.

It is important when taking and uploading photos of children that permission must be sought from parents and legal guardians prior to taking the photo or using the image.

It must be clearly explained to the parent or guardian why the image was taken and for what purpose it will be used.

One incident I can recollect is when the image of a child was used to promote the work of an international NGO.

When the child turned 14 she visited the offices of the NGO and saw her image.

She was of the opinion that the NGO owed her compensation for using her image to promote their work.

They had benefited in funding from her image but her life had not changed.

I have seen many individuals and organisations giving detailed information of the child in the images, including school, crèche, daycare, age, name and full frontal facial image of the child.

Organised crime syndicates, paedophiles, stalkers and other psychopaths are provided with enough details on the child to be able to undertake their nefarious activities, including kidnapping or murdering the child. 

Posting images of children and young girls may not necessarily be deemed a crime if the appropriate informed consent was granted by the parents, guardians or relevant social work bodies that are responsible for the care of the child. 

However, one still needs to act responsibly and in the best interests of the child even if consent was granted.

Social grandstanding is not a crime and we are all guilty of doing this. However, we need to ensure that we are not violating the rights of children when we engage in any community activities.

Fund-raisers at all levels need to be aware of these regulations and rights of children when it comes to publication of images otherwise they are putting the lives of children at risk.

Karen Pillay is an independent development practitioner committed to advancing the human rights of women and children.

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