News / South Africa

Ilse de Lange
2 minute read
10 Feb 2017
12:43 pm

Judgment reserved in child rights case

Ilse de Lange

Steven Budlender, for the rights groups, sharply criticised the media for their approach in identifying or threatening to identify child victims and offenders once they turned 18.

Celeste Nurse and a family member leave the Cape Town Magistrates' Court on February 27, 2015. (Photo by Gallo Images / Foto24 / Liza van Deventer)

Child victims of crimes like “Zephany Nurse”, who was abducted as a baby, and the Stellenbosch teenager who survived a tragic family murder currently enjoyed no anonymity protection in South Africa once they turned 18, the High Court in Pretoria has heard.

Judge Wendy Hughes on Friday extended an interim interdict preventing the media from identifying Zephany in any manner. The girl said an in affidavit she was being stalked by paparazzi and feared that they were gathering photos of her to splash all over the media the moment the interdict was lifted. She said she feared she would never be able to live a normal life.

The judge reserved judgment in an application by Zephany and four child rights groups for an order aimed at extending the anonymity protection under section 154(3) of the Criminal Procedure Act to child victims from the moment a crime was committed and to victims and offenders after they turn 18. In terms of the Act, child offenders and victims who testify in court may not be identified in any manner, but child rights groups said the Act did not provide protection for child victims who did not testify, nor for child offenders and victims once they turned 18.

The groups have asked the court to declare the Act, as far as it did not afford such protection to children, unconstitutional and to refer it to Parliament for rectification, but to read such protection into the interpretation of the Act until new legislation was passed. Media24, Times Media and Independent Newspapers have opposed the application, arguing that such a “blanket ban” went too far and could in some instances lead to absurd results.

Steven Budlender, for the rights groups, sharply criticised the media for their approach in identifying or threatening to identify child victims and offenders once they turned 18 and arguing that the onus should be on the child to approach the court to protect their anonymity. The Stellenbosch teenager was in a coma, her parents were dead, and she could not get to court to protect her rights until it was too late.

One shuddered to think what would have happened to Zephany if she did not have a social worker who by chance knew the director of the Centre for Child Law who was willing to assist her, he said. Budlender also cited the case of two women convicted of family murders when they were children and who have fully rehabilitated and reintegrated in society, but lived in fear of exposure because the law offered them no protection.

He said the media’s argument that the women could sue for defamation was no consolation, as their lives would be ruined if their true identities were revealed.