BANGKOK - Child suspects and victims of crimes in Thailand are commonly paraded before journalists, who identify them, their families and home addresses, violating their rights and further traumatising them, experts say.
The longtime practice of displaying child suspects and victims to journalists, police, health workers and rights group staff makes it difficult to repair their lives, the experts said at a panel discussion about a new journalism training book on respecting children's rights.
Young suspects often wear masks to "protect" them, but actually, the mask can cause further damage, said Ticha Na Nakorn, director of the Baan Kanjanapisek training centre for young offenders. "We (Thai society) use masks to protect them, but when children are wearing masks for press conferences after they have committed a crime, they come to feel that they are intrinsically bad," Ticha told a student audience during the discussion. "This puts enormous pressure on them. Any energy they may have had to do good disappears." "The Masked Children", a 176-page book written in Thai by the local press development Isra Institute with support from Unicef, fleshes out the lives of five young people, before and after the crimes in which they were involved.
The book described how a 12-year-old ethnic Karen girl from Myanmar, who was enslaved and tortured by a Thai couple, was displayed topless before Thai journalists to show her extensive scars.
A 15-year-old girl, whose newborn baby went into a coma and died after being violently shaken by her 30-year-old boyfriend, described being told to visit her hospitalised child, only to be surrounded by nearly 50 journalists.
In another case study, journalists revealed the full name of a 17-year-old boy convicted for murder. "In Thailand, these children pay a high price for the media's thirst for ratings and adults' desire for publicity,"author Prangthip Daorueng wrote in the book.
Unicef estimates that at least 7,000 children in Thailand are abused every year, mostly sexually, and as many as 32,000 children were in conflict with the law in 2012.
Thai laws protect children and their identity, with clear penalties for violations, but exposing children to the media is"a breach of law ignored by everyone", a policeman said in the book, which will be distributed to media outlets and journalism schools.
A recent Unicef study, which analysed Thai media coverage over six months in 2012, found that 21 percent of newspaper reports and 13 percent of TV reports violated children's rights.
The most common violations were disclosure of the identities of child victims and suspects, including showing their faces and revealing their names and details of their schools, relatives and home addresses, the study said. "It is not only the media, but also other adults involved in children's cases - police, charity workers, foundation people. Many adults want children to be in front of the camera,"Prangthip told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "Some media people say that if cases are not reported, they (victims) will not get help," she said. "Adults should try to come up with a solution together - how they can protect children without violating them." She urged the Thai media to protect children's identities and to focus on crime trends rather than one-off crimes. "Any negative story, or any story exposing the identity of a child can harm the child now or in the future. This is something the media shouldn't do," Prangthip said.