Child Protection and Children’s Rights in the Digital World
Since the enactment of the UN-Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989, our world has changed in manifold ways - and with it the living environment of children. It is therefore important to take a closer look at the guidelines with regard to the change in society due to digitisation.
A consistent understanding of the terms “child” and “digital world” is required for analysing the implications of digitisation on the living environment of children.
According to the UN-Convention on the Rights of the Child, a child means any person under the age of 18 years old. We understand the term digital environment as more than just the internet. It encompasses the interaction of an evolving offer of connected digital services (content, software and applications) from commercial, public and other providers. This includes all computing and digitally networked technologies and services, often referred to as ICTs, the Internet, the World Wide Web, mobile devices and networks, online, “apps”, social media platforms, electronic databases, ‘big data,’ ‘Internet of Things’, ‘information society services’, the media environment, online gaming, and any developments resulting in access to or services for digital environment.
In consideration of the digitisation of children’s living environment, we focus on the following six areas of rights: Access, Freedom of Expression and Information, Assembly and Association, Participation and Play, Privacy and Data Protection, Education and Digital Literacy, Protection and Safety - taking into account international Human Rights Conventions, like the UN-Convention on the Rights of the Child and the European Convention on Human Rights.
Every child has the right to unrestricted and equal access to the digital world. (UN-CRC Art. 17) Access should be granted without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child''''s or his or her parent''''s or legal guardian''''s race, colour, gender, language, religion, political or other opinion, the national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or status. (UN-CRC Art.2)
Digitisation facilitates new types (and phenomena) of discrimination, e.g. cyberbullying or hate speech, which are spread widely via social media and thereby have the potential to multiply the effects of discrimination.
Every child has the right to freedom of expression - online and offline. This right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child''s choice. (UN-CRC Art.13)
Digitisation yields countless new possibilities for people to acquire information and to make one’s opinion known to a wide range of other people. For children to not be exposed to unreasonable risks, while retaining their right to unrestricted freedom of expression and information, the digital environment must provide mechanisms of protection that take into account children’s age and evolving capabilities.
Children have the right to freedom of association and to freedom of peaceful assembly. (UN-CRC Art. 15) This right also has to be ensured/ guaranteed, where the public sphere has expanded into the digital world, i.e. through social networking services and other forms of assembly in the digital world.
The right to play is important for developing social skills and growing up healthy. The digital world must be designed as a safe and appropriate place for exercising this right. (UN-CRC Art. 31)
Digitisation has broadened the possibilities for children to take part actively in dissemination of information, opinions and ideas and provides huge potential, especially with regard to democratic co-determination. Information can be provided, spread, publicly discussed and commented on very quickly anywhere.
Offline and online, no child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his or her honour and reputation. (UN-CRC Art. 16) For instance, the online publication of a picture without consent of the child depicted can be a violation of this right. The protection of the private sphere can, in the course of digitisation, only be achieved through adequate data protection on the internet and in social networks. It is necessary to guarantee that personal data, like name, address and phone number, are not collected or transferred to third parties without consent.
The child has a right to legal protection against any interference or violation of these rights. (UN-CRC Art.16)
Users need to be empowered for the execution of these rights and for self-protection, in order to be able to live a self-determined and confident life in the digital world.
Every child has a right to education, access to which has to be provided without discrimination and on the basis of equal opportunity. (UN-CRC Art. 28)
The educational system shall enable children to benefit from the opportunities and cope with the risks in the digital environment. Children should learn how to make competent use of content appropriate for their objectives and needs, and they should gain the skills to live safely and freely in the digital world. Here, parents and educators should provide competent, responsible and trustful support.
In all areas of life, both online and offline, children must be protected from any form of violence, abuse, negligence and mistreatment. Along with guidelines and laws that serve the purpose of protecting children, appropriate technical provisions must be implemented, while empowering children for self-protection in the digital world (UN-CRC Art. 3). Protection and safety in the digital world arises from a mix of different instruments and the children’s empowerment for self-protection. It is the duty of parents and pedagogues in educational institutions to promote the empowerment of children, while governments have to provide the legal framework and preconditions. This interplay is described in the model of Intelligent Risk Management. The model constitutes the different strategic goals of protection, based on the development along the child and adolescent phases and, with increasing age of the children, focuses on the growing ability to cope with risks.