Privacy laws and press codes

Laws on child privacy in different countries vary, with often discriminatory results. For example, in the Czech Republic, child victims have much less protection from media exposure than children convicted of a criminal offence. When an underage boy recently killed his schoolmate his name, his address and private data were carefully concealed from the press.

Meanwhile, an eight-year-old who had been abused by his mother in the worst possible manner had no such right to privacy, and details of his identity and the abuse he suffered were reported in newspapers. Child psychologist Alena Černá says that being constantly reminded of what happened prevents children from healing:

"The ability to forget is a deeply rooted safety mechanism in children. If you have a traumatic experience as a child this is one of the very simple ways of coping with the situation. But if you are open to publicity you are reminded of that trauma over and over and hurt over and over and can’t do anything about it." Read more on the effort to grant child victims right to privacy in the Czech Republic.

Similarly, in Pakistan, the picture and name of a nine-year-old female victim of child prostitution, recovered from a brothel in Swat district, was splashed across different newspapers. Read more on the media violating law on juvenile offenders in Pakistan.

It should be noted that media guidelines usually recommend that children convicted of a criminal offence should not be identified either, although press complaints guidelines frequently prioritise the 'public interest', and freedom of information, over the privacy of children. So, for example, in the view of the Australian Press Council, having a "law to the effect that it would absolutely forbid the publication of the name of a deceased child, the victim of a notorious crime, would be difficult to justify. The public there would presumably be rightly interested in the trial of any person charged with the commission of that crime. The Council believes that, in the absence of exceptional circumstances, the public has the right to be informed as to the names of persons appearing before the courts, especially in criminal matters." No further mention of children is made.

Indeed, press complaints bodies are often simply self-regulating, and guidelines usually support the reporting of legal proceedings, since this is deemed to be in the public interest. Laws, however, may restrict which information is permitted to be published, for example, the identity of the accused before they have been found guilty.

In fact, press codes are often non-existent, or are fairly superficial and do not mention children other than in the context of privacy, such as in the code of ethics of the Editors Guild of Sri Lanka. Discrimination is rarely a consideration.

The United States' Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics asks that journalists merely 'avoid' stereotyping by race, gender, religion...but there is no mention of age or children.

In the UK, the Press Complaints Commission code of practice includes sections on both children and discrimination, yet does not link the two.