Social media and the rights of the child

The country was shocked and dismayed this week by the publication on social media of obscene images of two small children. That someone would think it amusing or acceptable to publish pornographic images of pre-school children being subjected to horrendous abuse, is unthinkable. Indeed, we concur with the Media Institute of Southern Africa’s Namibian chapter, which pointed out that publishing lewd images of children – indeed of anyone – is a criminal act, punishable by law.

Our Monday report on the case of the two missing girls that were being sought by the police was – despite our best attempts to withhold the tragic details of the case in order to protect the children – soon linked to the photos of the children and a paedophile posted online by social media users. Readers were outraged.

There can be no doubt that the children, so cruelly exposed in the pictures posted online, have been doubly victimised: firstly, by the abuser who photographed and physically molested them; and secondly, by those who have the gall to publish such vile content on social media. The correct course of action for any reasonable person would be – on first encounter with such material – to report it to the Women and Child Protection Unit of the Namibian police.



No fewer than four cases of child rape and molestation were reported over the past weekend. The seriousness of the situation facing children in this country should not be under-estimated. As is often the case, last Sunday’s police crime briefing left the newsroom staff in a state of sombre despair, as we are obliged to report on a near-daily basis the most gruesome and unconscionable crimes committed against children in our country.

No doubt the new technology allows users to transmit data at lighting speed around the world, but in our hurry to break the latest news, sometimes we should pause to ask ourselves whether what we are publishing is ethical, decent, helpful, or even acceptable. Moreover, is it legal?

The information revolution has created a moral and legal dilemma – for practitioners of traditional media and new media users – about the moral boundaries and proper use of our newfound powers, particularly with respect to the rights of others.

In a recent incident, two boys were savagely attacked and killed by dogs at Otjomuise. Some bystanders filmed the attack and posted it online, but could not explain why they did not put down their phones and try to help the kids being attacked.

A young woman was brutally murdered in the north – indeed her head was cut off by a boyfriend – and somebody thought it wise to publish a photo of the headless victim. Have we lost all sense of reason and restraint since the arrival of social media?

Many will agree that crimes against children, including rape, murder and deprivation, have reached epidemic proportions. Sections of society are calling for harsher punishments – even the death sentence – to be imposed on murderers and child abusers.

As for those who persist in publishing lewd and obscene material of children, we reserve no sympathy and call on the law enforcement agencies to do everything in their power to bring such perpetrators to book, so that they will be known by the public and will not have the safety of distance and anonymity they enjoy behind their computer screens to shield them from prosecution. They should be dragged into the light to feel the heat of public scorn and condemnation.

Let us strive to build a country based on true equality, in which the happiness and health of our children is the most important indicator of our progress. Let it be said among all the nations, that the Republic of Namibia belongs to its children. We are merely the caretakers, the guardians, who hold this land and its riches in trust for our children, who are the true heirs of our democracy and bear the promise of a brighter tomorrow.

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