Media glare and protection of privacy of child crime victims

Media glare and protection of privacy of child crime victims
Appearance of names of child victims or any identifiable information in the media can lead to serious psychological consequences.

“It was just really hard to hold your head up, even to walk outside with everyone almost in the world knowing what happened … I shouldn’t care what people think or say. It’s just the fact that everyone knows I’m the kid,” these were the words of a crime victim. While media publicity is likely to have a negative effect on all victims, its impact on child victims is a matter of grave concern. Appearance of names of child victims or any identifiable information in the media can lead to serious psychological consequences.

Publicity surrounding victims can exacerbate trauma, and delay the recovery from the traumatic experiences. It might also discourage the child from future disclosures, develop negative attitude and affect the cooperation with the authorities. Studies show that the youth can experience shame just by guessing or assuming that others are evaluating them negatively. The publicity can affect their self esteem because their self concept and self consciousness are so dependent upon others, peers in particular.

Presently, the media is very much aware of the potential harm for victims in disclosing their identity when reporting on crime. Ethics of crime reporting and being sensitive to crime victims’ needs and concerns have increased in recent past. However, it has been found that news articles/stories on child victimisation, may have excluded the names of the victims, but have commonly included information which could reveal the identity of the child. Studies say that large percentage of news on child abuse has included, at least one type of identifying information about the child. (For example, the Delhi High Court had issued notices to several media houses for disclosing the identity of an eight-year-old girl who was abused and killed in Jammu and Kashmir's Kathua district.)

Legal provisions for protecting juvenile victims from media coverage

The Indian Constitution, gives the right of freedom of speech and expression to every citizen, but with restrictions. Few restrictions/guidelines have been laid down for the media, with regard to reporting on sexual violence against the children, in order to protect their identity.

• Under Section 74 of the Juvenile Justice Act (Care and Protection of Children), 2015, Prohibition on disclosure of identity of children: No report in any newspaper, magazine, news-sheet or audio-visual media or other forms of communication regarding any inquiry or investigation or judicial procedure, shall disclose the name, address or school or any other particular, which may lead to the identification of a child in conflict with law or a child in need of care and protection or a child victim or witness of a crime, involved in such matter, under any other law for the time being in force, nor shall the picture of any such child be published.

• Section 23(2) of the POCSO Act states: No reports in any media shall disclose, the identity of a child including his name, address, family details, school neighbourhood or any other particulars which may lead to disclosure of identity of the child.

• Immoral Traffic Prevention Act, 1956, prohibits the publication of the name of a victim, below the age of 18 years, or the identification of the place of the offence so as to protect the identity of the victim.

• Cinematography Act, 1952, prohibits the glorification of crime against children, sexual exploitation and abuse of children in films.

• Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, prohibits the publication of the name of a woman below the age of 18 years.

•  Young Persons Harmful Publication Act, 1956, prevents the dissemination of certain publications that are harmful for young persons and that propagate or glorify sexual abuse and exploitation of children.

• Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986, forbids the depiction of women in an indecent or derogatory manner in the mass media.

• Section 228A Indian Penal Code punishes whoever discloses by printing or publication the identity of the victim of a rape.

• Section 293 IPC prohibits the sale, hire, exhibition or circulation of obscene books, print material, figures to persons under 20 years.

• Section 327 (3) of the Criminal Procedure Code prohibits any reporting of a court case that deals with the sexual exploitation of a child, without the specific permission of the court.

• Press Council of India (PCI) lays down the norms to be followed by the media, keeping in mind the rights of children.

Media intervention to protect the rights of children against sexual violence

The media plays an important role in shaping society’s views and influencing the way people think and behave. The media raises awareness, influences behaviour and generates public opinion. It also provides credible information, alerts stakeholders and creates a demand for special support services. Hence it becomes very important to encourage media professionals to address the issue of sexual violence against children in a consistent, sensitive and effective manner, consonant with the rights and best interests of children. Several guidelines have been issued by the National Human Rights Commission, United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund and PCI while reporting child abuse cases:

• Never reveal the identity of the victim, or any information that could identify the victim. Always change the name and obscure the visual identity of any child who is identified as a victim/perpetrator of sexual abuse or exploitation.

• Always provide an accurate context and circumstances for the child's story, cross-check facts, insist on accuracy and keep in mind the best interest of the child. .

• Bring the issue of sexual violence against children into the realm of public knowledge and debate and present the issue of sexual violence against children as a serious violation of children’s rights and universal human rights, not just an offence against children.

• When reporting on sexual violence against children ask yourself, “Will the child victim and/or other potential child victims benefit from this story?” Do not further stigmatize any child and avoid descriptions that expose a child to negative reprisals.

• Be aware of the possibility of vested interests.

• Do not sensationalise or exaggerate events as this could further damage the victim.

• Draw public attention to what they can do to prevent sexual violence against children and try and create public demand for child support services.

Media, print and electronic, while reporting should observe restraint in identification of the accused and the victims because such disclosures are not only against journalistic ethics but also violate various legal provisions.

(The author, an IPS officer of the 2005 batch, Kerala cadre, is a socially conscious cop, a wellknown cyber expert, and an author of the must-read book 'Is Your Child Safe?' He has had an outstanding and illustrious career as senior superintendent of police in Kerala. Direct your queries to

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