Fined “topless girls” deserve their rights to privacy, too

The way the three girls who “shamelessly” danced topless on top of a vehicle during the Songkran festival in Bangkok’s central business district of Silom were handled by the police and the media begs a question – Did they deserve their rights to privacy, too?

After fined for 500 baht each for their obscene act, two girls aged 14 and 16 were paraded by the police to an eagerly awaiting army of newsmen, photographers and cameramen. At the press conference held on April 18, the girls appeared in long-sleeved police jackets, red face mask beanies and sunglasses to hide their identities, and apparently proceeded to apologise for their apparently unacceptable behaviour on April 15. They were treated no differently than what the police usually do to robbery or murder suspects.

Instead of attempting to disguise the girls’ identities, could the police have afforded not to hold the press conference to avoid the risk of violating the girls rights to privacy and dignity – the rights stated in an international convention on child rights that Thailand has ratified and the country’s own child protection law.

Under the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, every child accused of or recognised as having breached penal law should be treated in a manner consistent with the promotion of the child’s sense of dignity and worth. The same convention states that children have the right to have their privacy fully respected at all stages of the proceedings. The failure to recognize a child’s privacy could lead to the diminishing of dignity of the child. This is echoed in Thailand’s Child Protection Act of 2003.

The law forbids anyone from advertising or disseminating by means of media or any kind of information technology any information on a child or the guardian, with the intention to cause psychological damage, undermining reputation, prestige or any other interests of the child. Instead, the Child’s Rights Convention prescribes state parties to seek appropriate alternative assistance to deal with the child in a manner appropriate to his/her well-being and proportionate to their circumstances and the offence.

Still, the Thai police was not the only party seen to be responsible for the violation of the two girls’ rights to privacy.  The media themselves should have also been aware of their violation. In accordance with the News Broadcasting Council of Thailand’s Code of Conduct, journalists are to take into consideration issues dealing with human rights, freedom and dignity. They are called to show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by their news coverage.

Rather than penalising these girls, should the state, the law enforcement agencies and civil society organisations work together to develop a society that is safe and friendly to children and young adults?

Maja Cubarrubia is Plan Thailand director for Plan International, a child rights protection and development agency. Plan works in 48 countries around the globe, 13 of which in Asia.

This whole affair is nothing

This whole affair is nothing but a demonstration of the contempt with which the Thai 'elite' hold ordinary Thais.

Thought experiment:

If it had been the 16 year old general's daughter who caused the wreck and the 9 deaths on the highway, or one of her friends, who danced topless on a "friends'" car at Songkran... how would this story differ?