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Covering cases involving minors

 Much has been said about the bullying at Ateneo Junior High School because the incident struck a strong chord in the heartstrings of the community; many who have weighed in with their opinions also suffered from bullying in their past.

Responses came fast after videos were posted online of a young Atenean and taekwondo champion, who humiliated fellow students by forcing them to kneel to him, kiss or touch his shoes and crotch, on pain of receiving a beating—“Bugbog or dignidad?”

Several senators, the Philippine National Police, the Department of Education, the Foreign Secretary, the Philippine Taekwondo Association, actors, balikbayans, and people from all walks of life said either the bully deserved a comeuppance of his own, or “don’t bully the bully.”

The administration of the Ateneo is investigating the matter and promises to deal strictly and fairly in the matter, although they have received criticism for seemingly being more concerned with privacy issues rather than meting out justice.

Let’s talk about that. The cybercommunity moves swiftly and although some of the video posts were taken down, they had been spread too far and wide to be fully contained. Yet there are rules that shield the privacy of minor victims and perpetrators.

The Department of Justice has guidelines for media practitioners on the reporting and coverage of cases involving children. The rationale goes, in part: ‘Existing laws passed protecting the child provide for confidentiality. The confidentiality clauses are meant to protect the child’s right to privacy and to prevent the child from trauma, social stigma, and further suffering arising from inappropriate publicity or approaches to media coverage.”

Among the laws cited as legal basis for the issuance of the guidelines is Republic Act No. 9262 (Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act of 2004). Sec. 44 provides for confidentiality, specifically anti-doxxing, but only for the victim: “Whoever publishes or causes to be published, in any format, the name, address, telephone number, school, business address, employer, or other identifying information of a victim or an immediate family member, without the latter’s consent, shall be liable to the contempt power of the court.”

The law, however, provides in Sec. 41 for the “Counseling and Treatment of Offenders.—The DSWD shall provide rehabilitative counseling and treatment to perpetrators towards learning constructive ways of coping with anger and emotional outbursts and reforming their ways. When necessary, the offender shall be ordered by the Court to submit to psychiatric treatment or confinement.”

 Also for the benefit of the bully, Republic Act No. 9344 (Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006), another one of the laws cited in the media guidelines, “mandates that all records and proceedings involving children in conflict with the law from initial contact until final disposition of the case shall be considered privileged and confidential.” 

“Children in conflict with the law” (CICL) is defined by the guidelines as referring “to a child who is alleged as, accused of, or adjudged as, having committed an offense under Philippine laws.”

 The first two media guidelines are unequivocal:

 “1. In the best interest of the child, the identity of a child victim of abuse, child witness, CIAC [child involved in armed conflict] or a CICL shall not be disclosed whether directly or indirectly. No information that would lead to the identity of the child or any member of his/her family shall be published or broadcast.

“2. Photographs, images, or video footage of the face or any distinguishing feature or information of a child victim of abuse, child witness, CIAC or a child in conflict with the law including his or her family members shall not be taken, published, or shown to the public in any manner.”

The use of social media as a public shaming mechanism has been eagerly adopted by netizens and while this might act as a deterrent and a means to impose social order, when minors are involved there are laws that protect their future from the foolishness of their youthful actions.  

In this instance, though, the bully’s name and other personal circumstances are now known, and you can’t put the yolk back into a broken egg. Going forward, both mass media practitioners and social media users should keep these guidelines and child welfare laws in mind.      

•••

To my readers, have yourself a very merry Christmas with your loved ones! May there be no place for violence and sorrow in our celebrations as we spread love, understanding, and joy this season and always!

Dr. Ortuoste was bullied as a child and calls upon the Ateneo to look to the victims’ welfare and eradicate the culture of bullying in its schools. FB and Twitter: @DrJennyO

Topics: Ateneo Junior High School , Ateneo , Bullying , Joaquin Montes , Philippine National Police , Department of Education , Foreign Secretary , Philippine Taekwondo Association
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