Vietnam media violate child's right to privacy in reporting abuse: experts

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Experts say journalists need to be careful when writing about children. FILE PHOTO

Many Vietnamese newspapers "rudely" violate children's right to privacy when reporting cases in which they are victims of domestic violence and rape, experts say.

A recent study by the non-government Center for Community Development and Social Work found that every year at least 6,000 news articles fail to protect children's privacy, Infonet the online newspaper of the Ministry of Information and Communication reported.

Most of these articles dealt with violence and sexual abuse and carried details of affected children, mostly girls,. The articled mentioned where the victims lived, the school they studied in and even carried their photographs, lawyer Le The Nhan, chairman of the center, was quoted as saying. 

The study, which was conducted among five online newspapers that attracted most views in Vietnam last year, cited the case of a 13-year-old girl who became pregnant after being raped in the central town of Hue.

It said that after many online newspapers reported her case with details of her name, age, photo, and place of residence, the girl attempted to commit suicide because she could not cope with the pressure of public scrutiny. Later, she had to leave her hometown.

Tran Ba Dung of the Vietnam Journalists Association also said that when he checks online newspapers every day, he sees "shocking headlines" about children like "Most terrible child rapes," "One-night stand for teenage girls," and "13-year-old girl raped to pregnancy."

The articles publish the children's photos and home addresses, and worse, report how they were abused in detail, Dung said.

"After reading tens of such articles every day, readers can be shocked, sympathetic but then forget about them. But, the victims will not be able to overcome public opinion at the place they live, or forget that the whole country knows what happened to them," he said.

Do Thi Thanh Nha, editor-in-chief of the Phu nu Thu do (Capital Women) newspaper, said that compared to the rape or violence, the public exposure can inflict greater suffering on the child victims that would take them much longer to overcome.

At a meeting held by the Vietnam Journalists Association last weekend, participants also pointed out that many journalists and newspapers are "irresponsible" and violate children's rights by making children the focus of their stories to attract readers, the Lao Dong (Labor) newspaper reported.

They cited the high-profile case of 11-year-old Do Nhat Nam, known as Vietnam's youngest English translator, as an example for how local newspapers failed to protect children and exposed them to public criticism.

In an interview with a newspaper in April, Nam said: "I don't like reading comics, because my mother said comics are like worms that eat your soul."

His statement made headlines in many newspapers which failed to describe its context fully, leading to public criticism that targeted Nam, saying that he was full of himself and that his parents had deprived him of his childhood.

On the other hand, some papers even asked for readers' opinions about the statement, exposing the boy to more pressure from the public.

Huynh Dung Nhan, vice chairman of the journalism association, said at the meeting that even when reporting delinquency, many newspapers were also "rude" to children.

He said a police-owned newspaper, for instance, published the name and photo of a 12-year-old boy who was a suspected rapist.

Some other newspapers later cited the information about his identity and stressed it to attract readers, without bothering that young offenders still need protection to redeem themselves, Nhan said.

Results of a survey released at the meeting showed five percent of interviewed reporters said it was "normal" to publish the full names and addresses of abused children and delinquents, adding that the details help make their reports more convincing.

There are "many problems" with Vietnamese journalists' skills in writing about children, as well as their awareness of child laws and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, said Nguyen Ngoc Oanh with the Academy of Journalism and Communication.

Nhan said news reports about children are an important means of promoting lifestyle and human dignity among the young generation.

"Children are innocent and easily trust what they read. So, it is necessary to be careful when writing about children, in terms of approaching the subject, style of writing and the way it is published," he said.

Dinh Thi Thuy Hang, director of the Center for Media Training, agreed, saying that when writing about children, journalists need to be careful and write as if they were writing for and about their own children.

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