Of Children In The Media

By Shazeera Ahmad Zawawi

Spurred by the recent reporting of the underage “marriage” of an 11-year old girl to a 41-year old man in Kelantan, Malaysia, this is a deliberation on principles for ethical reporting on children, or rather the lack of it, and the child’s rights and welfare.

I was on my way to work today when I stole some sleepy glances at the Harian Metro that the passenger in front of me was reading and saw the picture of a young girl on the front page. I gasped. She is the 11-year old girl, Siti Saman Mat Ail, who was allegedly married to a 40-year old man in Kelantan. Harian Metro reported on how she was abducted by her “husband” and was later found.

The underage marriage was already a shocker, but how the press is treating the news without due consideration to the best interest of the child is even scarier.

What if Siti Saman is my own Safra? What would I feel, being exposed to the public in such way? Was any preliminary consent and discussion made with the mother with regard to exposing her daughter’s identity in public? By the way, how would Siti Saman feel at the moment? It is unashamedly accepted that sensational news involving sex scandals, erotic descriptions, and mystical elements universally sell – but at the expense of the safety, security and welfare of a child?

This is not the first time that I am appalled at how the media carelessly carry information pertaining to the identity and private information of children caught in situations that jeopardize their safety, dignity and livelihood. If Siti Saman is still missing, then publishing her picture in the press and media is essential for public to report to the authorities or provide information on her whereabouts. But since she has already been found, she needs her personal space and privacy in order to recover physically and mentally after what had happened.

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