San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Rules Keep Orphans Faceless in the Media

THE Child Welfare Office (PANI) andits interpretation of children’s rights lawsmay be hampering orphans’ possibilitiesof finding adoptive parents and hamstringingthe press.Thanks to PANI’s reading of the 1998Children’s Code, ostensibly designed toprotect the identity of child criminals andvictims of crime, images of orphans in themedia are headless, blurry-faced, or standingwith their backs to the cameras.Though the media is allowed to publishphotos of children’s faces with permissionfrom their parents, PANI does not give thatpermission when it assumes legal controlof a child, so orphans remain faceless tothe public.“There could be lawsuits (against theoffice) if photos are published,” PANIlegal advisor Gioconda Rivas told TheTico Times. “PANI is subject to the lawsthat protect children – protection of identityand privacy is a children’s right.”HOWEVER, no lawsuits regardingthis matter have been filed against PANI todate, she said. The only legal action takenregarding orphans’ photos was a warningchild welfare officials filed against a mediacompany, which she did not name, after itpublished photos of orphans’ faces. If thecompany does it again, PANI will alert ajudge, possibly in a penal court, she said.PANI lawyer Diego Pacheco saidArticles 25 and 27 of the Children’s Codeobligate PANI to protect children’s rightsto their own images and privacy.“Children’s rights are above PANI,” hesaid, outlining the difference between thepowers of state entities and the people theyserve. “You have to understand that statesdon’t have rights. Only dictatorships haverights; states have powers.”PANI’s powers do not include the authorityto grant the press permission to publishphotos of children in its care, he said.FAMILY rights lawyer Moisés Huntexplained it slightly differently: “It’s alegal interpretation of its (PANI’s) own law(created in the Legislative Assembly). Wecall it an authentic interpretation,” he said.This interpretation of the law is questionable,according to family rights lawyerJorge Solano. He admitted he had not consideredthe issue before, but after reviewingthe pertinent articles of the Children’sCode, his opinion is that PANI could givepermission to publish photos of children’sfaces if it wanted to.Examining Article 27 of the code,which outlines children’s rights to theirimage, Solano said, “It would seem that itrefers to the prohibition of publishing photoswhen the child is linked to a crime orwhen they are victims of a crime.”It says nothing about orphans who arenot involved in crime, he said, adding,“My idea is that PANI isn’t right with thatinterpretation.”ARTICLE 25, the right to privacy, iswrongly interpreted as well, Solano added.“It’s true children have rights, like anycitizen, to their privacy, but if their representativeis PANI, it can give permission (topublish photos). Nothing (in those articles)implies that it can’t give permission. Whatwould be illegal is if you took the pictureswithout first asking PANI,” he said.There might be a reason for PANI’scaution, according to Hunt, who said thelaw could be a line of defense between thechildren and traffickers of humans andorgans.“It (the law) protects the child and, onan international level, restricts the possibilityof giving information that could be misused– for example, in child or organ trafficking,”Hunt said.CHILDREN in government homes arein a state of abandonment – meaning theirparents or other family members are missing,deceased, or declared incompetent toraise them – or their families have had theirrights suspended, explained CristianCarvajal, former director of PANI’sAdoption Office.In the case of a declaration of abandonment,PANI becomes responsible for providingfor the children’s care, includingfinding them adoptive parents.“When the children have beendeclared in a state of abandonment, PANIcould give permission to the media topublish photos, but it doesn’t,” Hunt said.Besides the dangers mentioned, he saidthe photos could otherwise damage thechildren’s reputations or those of theirfamily members.“(PANI) prefers to avoid that conflict,”he added.HOWEVER, the inflexibility of thelaw may be obstructing child welfare officials’own efforts to promote adoption.Its Adoption Office is planning to makea video of children who are available foradoption, but the same law that protects thechildren’s privacy in the media might prohibitPANI from filming the children’sfaces, according to PANI spokeswomanFanny Cordero.The 10-minute video will try to interestforeign families in adopting childrenwho are considered difficult to adopt inCosta Rica. They are children over agefive, groups of brothers and sisters thatmust remain together, and children withdiseases or disabilities such as HIV, severemental retardation, or birth defects (seeseparate story).The video is slated for distribution tothe children’s welfare offices of Italy,Germany, Spain, France and Britain withinformation brochures translated into eachlanguage explaining the adoption processin Costa Rica, at a projected cost to PANIof about ¢15 million ($31,500), Corderosaid.Whether the video includes headlessorphans and kids’ backs, or shows theirfaces to potential European parents whomight adopt the children that are unwantedby Costa Rican families, is in the hands ofPANI’s legal analysts.Rivas said she expects a decision soon,and she intimated that showing the children’sfaces will probably be allowed aslong as the video is sent into the hands of aresponsible foreign government.Cordero, on the other hand, said shesuspects the legal department will notauthorize the filming of the children’sfaces, but that the project would go forwardregardless and will probably be finishedwithin a month.

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