UNICEF: Global kids online: From research on children’s rights in the digital age to national and international policy

5 Dec 2016 11:00h - 12:30h

Event report

[Read more session reports and live updates from the 11th Internet Governance Forum]

The session started with a brief introduction by the moderator Ms Jasmina Byrne, Senior Researcher, UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti, of the Global Kids Online (GKO) platform, which was developed as a collaborative initiative between the UNICEF Office of Research, the London School of Economics and Political Science, and the EU Kids’ Online Network.

Byrne presented the GKO initiative’s methodology which uses both qualitative and quantitative tools designed for child and adult. She mentioned that the first-year results of the initiative were important as evidence in policy-making, particularly in relation to children’s digital skills and literacies, safety online, civic engagement, privacy, and freedom of expression.

The session introduced three main subjects: developing policies and programmes that will help to create global alliances; the use of pilots and surveys to understand children’s online and offline behaviour; and recognising that the different contexts in which children live may influence their behaviour online.

GKO started with four pilot countries where each country had its unique interests and issues related to opportunities and risks for kids online: Argentina, the Philippines, Serbia, and South Africa. 

Prof. Sonia Livingstone, Professor at the London School of Economics, stressed the fact that in a digital era where children online make up an estimated one-third of Internet users worldwide, it is urgent to research different context views, and recognise the diversity out there. The initiative had started from scratch with clear objectives, including a modular survey and a range of qualitative tools, and research protocols with a series of experts in children’s online risks and opportunities.

Livingstone issued an open invitation for more countries to join the initiative on child online safety and added that the GKO team is testing the methodology across different countries through surveys and studies. Most children online are accessing it through smart phones, laptops, and tablets; they use the Internet for recreation and communication. The majority surveyed said they learned new things every week from the Internet. The question is how can children keep themselves safe? Do children know how to change their privacy settings? Livingstone noted that it is likely that older teenagers are more aware of privacy issues. Philippine children are encountering fewer risks because of less accessibility to the Internet, which highlights the issue of finding a balance between opportunity and risk.

After showing a video about what children and parents think about digital technology, Mr Alexandre F. Barbosa, Manager, Network Information Center, Brazil, spoke about pilot programmes and representative surveys from the ground. Barbosa noted that the Brazilian research centre is providing policymakers with rich policy advice based on nationwide surveys results. The centre has conducted 6000 interviews and 3000 surveys with kids aged 9–17. He also presented some findings related to Brazil where only 8% of children in the 9–17 group are using the Internet; 6 million children are not yet connected; and 3 million have never used the Internet. He added that Internet connectivity is highly correlated to social class: 97% of higher-income households are connected and 15% of children do not have access because they don’t have it at home. About one-third of the population cannot access because they cannot afford the Internet connectivity costs. In 2012, 21% of users used mobile devices to access the Internet. Lower-income households use the Internet only via mobile devices for social and communication activities.

Barbosa ended his introduction by asking how Internet exposure affects the kids’ perception of online advertising for products or brands. He added that the most critical issues in Brazil relating to child safety online concern hate speech, racism, sexism, and homophobia. They are conducting qualitative studies in co-operation with the Ministry of Justice to tackle these problems. He added also that they are working with Argentina to adapt their framework by engaging policymakers and researchers to establish cross-region comparisons to think about future policy design and strategies for child online safety.

Mr Mario Viola, Institute of Technology and Society in Brazil, said that some of the different types of risks facing children online relate to privacy and data protection. He added that children should not be excluded from the debate about their privacy and rights online; the US’ Children Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which gives parents control over what information is collected from their children, should include children as well. He said children deserve more consideration.  He added that many initiatives such as the ITU’s Children Protection, the IGF Youth, and NEXTGEN@ICANN (18–30) may be excluding children from sitting on their boards. He concluded that children’s perspectives should be sought in debates.

During the open discussion, some points were raised about the role of parents in establishing a trusting relationship with their children and determining the appropriate skills and literacy regarding ICT policies for children’s rights and privacy online.

At the end of the session, Byrne concluded that the different contexts are important to consider in research and that such initiatives should be globalised for a universal model to further protect children online.

by Hafedh Yahmadi – Internet Society, Tunis Chapter