[Read more session reports from WSIS Forum 2017]
The moderator Mr Patrick Geary (Corporate Social Responsibility Specialist, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)) opened the session on children’s rights in the digital world, which was jointly organised by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and UNICEF. To start, he mentioned that technology presents challenges and opportunities when it comes to protecting the rights of children, and that there is a delicate balance between protecting children from risks and harms online, and promoting access to digital means of communication that would further their development. In that regard, UNICEF has been working with all stakeholders to develop principles on children’s online privacy and freedom of expression in order to set up clear standards and guidance on the protection of those rights in the digital world. There are two aspects of the principles: (1) overarching principles that will consider all stakeholders, industry, policy-makers, parents, educators, and children; and (2) a practical set of principles specifically designed for industries, that will include issues like the protection of children personal information, images, biometrics, access to information and parental controls, among others.
Ms Carla Licciardello (Policy Analyst, ITU) explained the ITU’s Child Online Protection initiative which is a multistakeholder partnership that urges the ITU’s member states to adopt national strategies that can effectively deal with children’s online safety issues. Those strategies should have a children's’ rights perspective. Licciardello noticed that children and young people are leading the digital uptake but, at the same time, threats and hazards are also increasing. To address this complex scenario, the ITU, at the request of its member states, established a Council working group on Child Online Protection that meets twice a year to make recommendations and exchange views on the subject matter. In addition, there is an online consultation before each meeting to include more participants and gather more perspectives on specific issues.
Dr Amanda Third (Professor, Western University of Sydney) commented on the results of a research project carried out by the Western University of Sydney. The study, conducted in 2014, encompassed 16 countries and 150 children. The results showed many interesting insights. First, that we need to stop thinking of the offline world as a separate domain, and need to think about how the offline and online domains intersect. Second, consulted children said that institutions and organizations that are concerned with these issues often do not have a clear picture of what threats and risks actually exist for them online. Third, children were very eloquent at expressing what those risks were, but were unable to clearly express the benefits and opportunities of the digital world. With this background, and the desire to enhance children’s participation and engagement in the discussion, the university created, along with ITU, the Rerights platform that invites children to express themselves on this matter in an interactive and safe way.
Ms Allegra Franchetti (Secretary of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)) observed that while adults use technology, children actually live in the digital world. She stressed the importance of including children’s voices in the conversation, and referred to article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child which mandates states to ensure children’s rights to participation, expression, and opinion. Franchetti recalled a discussion on Digital media and children’s rights that was organized by the Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2014, and concluded with a set of recommendations for states to ensure the protection of children’s rights online. In that final document, the committee recommended that states ensure children’s access to digital media without discrimination, to guarantee children’s rights to privacy and freedom of expression in the digital world, and to make sure children are consulted when making and implementing policy in these areas. To finalise, the speaker advocated for a holistic strategy that includes all actors; for the promotion of digital literacy coupled with social literacy which would equip children with ethical principles and values; and for guidance for responsible behaviour online.
Dr Susanna Greijer (Consultant/ ECPAT International) talked about ECPAT’s work with the Terminology Guidelines for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, the result of two years of multistakeholder consultations with 18 international organisations, NGOs, law enforcement agencies, and academic institutions. The objective of the guidelines was to harmonise terms and definitions related to child protection. The focus was on those terms that many organisations often use, but which can be harmful or stigmatising for children that have been victims of sexual exploitation. In that sense, the report recommends language that is respectful to the child. Children were not directly involved in the consultations, but their voices were included through NGOs that work directly with them. Greijer observed that the guidelines had direct impact on some policies and legislative processes, like the United Kingdom Serious Crime Act, where legislators used some terms related to child protection issues in accordance with the recommendations of the guidelines.
by Tamar Colodenco