A fortnight ago, a video of a young girl being molested by a man went viral on social media. Two days later, a man was arrested on suspicion of the crime. The video may have helped in the arrest of the suspect but its wide circulation has also exposed the identity of the child victim and the heinous violation she went through.
This, says children’s rights activists, goes against basic child protection laws as it clearly violates the rights of the child to privacy.
“The best interest of the child must always be the priority.
“If the media or a member of the public witnesses or records an act of crime, they must immediately file a police report and submit the video or image they took as evidence.
“It should not be uploaded on social media at all. Doing so clearly contravenes the media restriction in section 15 of Child Act 2001 and Section 14 of Evidence of Child Witness Act 2007,” says Women’s Centre for Change advocacy officer Nadila Daud.
On Wednesday, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission said that uploading such videos is prohibited under Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act (1998). It urged the public to exercise due diligence when uploading or sharing content online.
While it is the duty of the media to report the news, activists say that reports must never jeopardise the safety or wellbeing of child victims.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), in their guidelines to the media (“All Rights for All Children”), emphasises the need for ethical reporting on all issues concerning children.
While ethical reporting can empower children, irresponsible reporting has the power to cause a great deal of damage to the child victim, it said.
And, in this age of social media and citizen journalism, such guidelines should apply not just to media agencies but members of the public who comment, report or share content on children.
In line with “always protecting the best interests of children”, Unicef’s guidelines assert that the identity of children who are victims of abuse or crime, infected or affected by AIDs or HIV, or those charged or convicted of a crime must always be protected.
Reports and posts must not mention their names or the names of their family, friends or anyone which will make them easily identifiable.
All other identifying information (race/address/village where they come from or neighbourhood where they reside/school, etc) must also not be revealed.
Their photos should not be published, even when the image has been blurred or pixelised. There is currently no guidelines on tampering with the photos to protect the identity of child victims.
“Section 15 of Child Act 2001 prohibits the mass media from revealing any pictures of child victims or any person that can lead to the identification of the child victims.
“By right, as the child is protected under the law, any image of the child should not be posted in the media,” says Nadila.
Identifying a child victim, experts say, can add to their trauma and complicate their recovery.
Nadila relates a WCC case where details about a child victim was released on TV. The disclosure affected the victim psychologically and emotionally for years.
“A 15 year-old-girl was raped by her father and he was charged in court.
“A TV station showed the charge sheet on their news bulletin. The victim’s details such as her name and address were made clear to viewers. This disclosure drew hurtful comments and insults about the victim which traumatised her further.
“She told us that she would rather die than live with such insults and comments all her life.
“WCC helped her by providing her with therapy and we are happy that she was able to move on. She has since graduated from college,” shares Nadila.
When crimes against children are reported responsibly, positive change can take place.
For instance, the wide coverage on the disappearance and murder of Nurin Jazlin Jazimin in 2007 led to the creation of NUR Alert, an early alert system for missing children.
The wide coverage of the Richard Huckle case and the Predator In My Phone campaign by The Star’s R.AGE led to the passing of new law on grooming and sexual crimes against children.
However, media practitioners and netizens must be ever aware of the impact their reports have on the lives of child victims and people related to them.
“Public perception and social stigma about sexual crimes can lead to victim blaming, which will stop the victims from reporting sexual crimes,” cautions Nadila.