Children make up 34% of our population, which translates to around 19.7 million people under the age of 18.1 Children are afforded a special place in our homes, communities, and laws. Their evolving capacities, their potential, their resilience, their ability to learn, develop, change, and play make them special members of society, and in the eyes of our law. These same qualities also imbue them with huge power in the news wherein many instances they are portrayed at their most vulnerable and most marginalised precisely to highlight the extreme nature of the story in which they feature. Kevin Carter’s haunting image of an emaciated child with a vulture in the background was used to highlight the food crisis in Sudan in 1993.2 The power of similar images stems from the talent of the photographers, but there is a significant element of power that derives from the fact that it is a child being depicted.
Despite their special protection under our Constitution and the law, and the power they sometimes acquire in the news, children are often underrepresented or marginalised in news, when in fact they are deserving of protection, and reportage that is empowering and encouraging of their development. Ethical dilemmas aside, the importance of children to our society and the violation of their rights and when they are on the wrong side of the law are critical news stories that need to be told.
The challenge arises when the best interest of the child together with the special protections afforded in law requires not only high levels of skill and knowledge to be exercised by the media, but also for careful balancing acts to take place to ensure that critical news stories can be told but also to ensure that children’s rights are respected. In this guide, we look at the latest developments and unpack key issues relating to children, the media, and the law.