Protecting children’s rights in the digital sphere

Tony Manyangadze / Opal Masocha Sibanda
Please inbox me the video. Kanda ka paApp. Ngicela ungithumezele i video leyana phela”.

These are some popular phrases in the comment section of several social media posts discussing a video involving a minor that went viral last week.

Earlier, a socialite and comedienne, Felistas Murata, popularly known as Mai TT, trended on social media after confronting a woman for not reporting a video of her minor child holding her lover’s manhood (in other words, being sexually abused). It is alleged that the woman kept the video on her phone until it was discovered by one of her sisters, who later informed her relatives about it.

Sadly, the disturbing video ended up circulating on various social media platforms following the incident. As sad and shocking as it sounds, that is the kind of a society we are becoming, partially eroded and soon to be eroded to the core. Can this be reversed? Can this be controlled?

The whole situation surrounding this video and the subsequent reactions opened a can of worms. It exposed how many people are out of touch with laws related to the right to privacy and freedom from online sexual abuse, media ethics and how such violations can impact children and victims of abuse.

In response to this complex crisis, this article discusses and brings to the fore issues around online child sexual exploitation, the rights to privacy and reputation, media law, media ethics and how the wanton violation of these impacts the psychological well-being of the victims.

Let us face it, we cannot escape the fact that the internet has become an emerging realm for human interaction. While it provides various opportunities for individuals to learn, express themselves, access, share, and retrieve information, it can also present an opportunity to violate children’s rights.

The possession and circulation of the video online is a violation of the child’s right to protection from sexual exploitation as enshrined in article 34 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and article 27 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC), which have been both ratified by Zimbabwe. The Constitution of Zimbabwe also provides for the protection of children from sexual exploitation in section 81(1)(e).

Sexual exploitation of children also takes place in the online environment, and this is usually referred to as child sexual abuse material which is defined in Zimbabwe’s Data Protection Act as “any representation through publication, exhibition, cinematography, electronic means or any other means whatsoever, of a child, a person made to appear as a child or realistic material representing a child, engaged in real or simulated explicit sexual activity…” Section 165A(2) criminalises, among other things, the production, offering, distribution and possession of child sexual abuse material. So even soliciting for such videos is a prosecutable offence.

The concept of privacy and reputation is closely linked to the distribution of child sexual abuse material. Children have a right to privacy and not to be subjected to attacks on their honour and reputation as provided for in the CRC (article 16) and the ACRWC (article 10).

The Constitution of Zimbabwe also provides for the protection of the right to privacy in section 57. Children’s physical privacy is affected by sharing children’s images and videos online, including explicit images and videos. Further, their reputation is increasingly shaped by the large number of information available about them online. In the current case, circulating the video is an infringement of the child’s privacy and a threat to her reputation.

Care must be taken by users of social media. We have established that the advancement of digital media technologies, like the internet and smart phones, has given many people the power to share content in various forms. This can be a danger, especially when dealing with sensitive issues. Media professionals make use of and are guided by media laws and ethics. Such regulations make it easier to control the distribution of sensitive information. But since the power to share information has been decentralised, it is more essential than ever to highlight media ethics and laws, especially in the context of “citizen journalists”.

In this article, we use the term citizen journalists to describe members of the public who have little or no journalism training, but, by owning a smartphone and have an internet connection, are performing journalistic duties.

In journalism school, future journalists are taught how to report on sensitive issues, including stories involving minors. The golden rule is that in cases of abuse, the children’s images, videos, or names, their parent’s names, or even the perpetrator’s names should not be published as this information may be used to positively identify the child.

Citizens should be aware that in terms of the Children’s Act and the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act, the identity of children in contact with the law or in conflict with the law should never be published either directly by mentioning the child’s name or indirectly by publishing the child’s address or any information likely to reveal the identity of the child.

In the past few weeks, the Public Service and Social Welfare ministry issued a Press statement highlighting that parading children in need of care and protection or publishing information leading to the identification of the child on any digital or print platform is a violation of children’s privacy and undermines their right to protection.

The ministry stressed that interviewing children and reporting their issues should be done in a way that serves public interest, without compromising their right to privacy and confidentiality. Children’s privacy, reputation and development are paramount and should always be protected. Above all, the best interests of the child must be regarded at all times.

Once a child’s identity is made public, a lot of damage can occur, and the effects can last a lifetime. As the child grows into a teenager, he or she can be further traumatised and might be subjected to cyberbullying if the video resurfaces.

The video might also land in the hands of online sex predators, who may use it on pornographic sites. We should remember that the internet never forgets, and that video might be online for a long time, to the detriment of the minor child.

But we can stop this as citizens, as a people, by using social media responsibly and refraining from further distributing the video or any other video depicting child sexual abuse material.

In the same spirit, the Zimbabwe Republic Police is also encouraged to ensure thorough investigations are conducted and the perpetrators are arrested and prosecuted.

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.