Children’s rights in the digital world: A case for internet governance

25 Nov 2019 15:40h - 17:10h

Event report

[Read more session reports and updates from the 14th Internet Governance Forum]

The session focused on the General Comment on the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), setting out how the states should apply children’s rights in the digital environment. The speakers discussed the rights of children, especially the right to be heard, the responsibility of parties to protect children, and the involvement of children and young people in the dialogue and design of frameworks. Once adopted, the General Comment to the UNCRC will set a new international standard for children’s rights in the digital world and will be applicable in the196 countries that are signatories to the UNCRC.

The need for the General Comment on the UNCRC arises from developments in the thirty years since the adoption of the UNCRC. The Internet, designed to be accessible to everybody, provides potential for children. However, children need to be seen as autonomous actors having agency and the ability to exercise their rights, stated Ms Beeban Kidron (Chair, 5Rights Foundation). The Internet affects children, as research shows: 1 in 3 users in the developed world are under 18 years of age, and 1 in 2 globally.

Children’s rights to access information (Art. 17 of the UNCRC), freedom of expression (Art. 13), freedom of association (Art. 15), and privacy (Art. 16) were discussed in detail in the context of Internet governance. Ms Sonia Livingstone OBE (London School of Economics) discussed how the existing rights of children apply to the diverse digital environment. She pointed out the challenges of defining the online application of the right not to be discriminated against based on age, or the child’s right to development. A balance needs to be set between the right to protection and the civil rights of children online, stressed Livingstone.

Further, Mr Gehad Madi (Member of the UNCRC Committee) emphasised the need to protect children online against recruitment by terrorist groups or by human trafficking rings, as well as the responsibility of states for such protection. Madi highlighted the right of children to be heard (Art. 12), as one of the most important rights, which includes the responsibility of adults to listen.

Children had the opportunity to be heard by providing input to the General Comments on UNCRC as Ms Amanda Third (Western Sydney University) explained in detail. 600 children from 26 countries provided their input in consultations from May to September 2019. The main advantages of the Internet, according to children, were education and work possibilities, addressing economic and environmental issues, and opportunities to realise their rights.

The main issues identified by children were lack of a simple explanation of data protection rules, as well as online harms. Another issue is that access to the Internet remains difficult, especially for disabled and disadvantaged children. Representative of young adults Mr Mason Rikard (Gifted Young Generation Podcaster) stated that as a part of the right to be heard, children should be included in Internet governance discussions. Rikard also emphasised the need to consider the age of children and young adults when defining the meaning of children’s rights online and their implications.

As a final topic, the panel discussed the rights of parents in online children’s rights, emphasising the need for digital literacy for both children and their parents.

By Pavlina Ittelson