Invitation to comment on a General Comment on children’s rights in relation to the digital environment
We are happy to announce that the Unites Nation’s Committee on the Rights of the Child is currently drafting a general comment on children’s rights in relation to the digital environment.
As of Aug. 12 the Committee now invites all interested stakeholders to comment on its draft general comment. The deadline for submissions is 15 November 2020. No submissions received after this deadline will be considered or posted on the webpage of the Committee.
After due consideration of inputs provided, the Committee will decide on the contents of the final version of the general comment. All comments:
- Should be submitted in one of the official languages of the Committee: English, French or Spanish;
- Should be in one concise and focused document indicating precisely the paragraphs to which comments are being made and must not exceed 3,000 words;
- Should be submitted electronically in WORD format to the following email address: email@example.com;
- Will not be accepted if they do not follow the above requirements;
- Will not be translated;
- Shall be posted on the CRC webpage devoted to this draft general comment.
The current version of the draft general comment can be found here.
Children's rights - Children's worries and concernsJutta Croll, Stiftung Digitale Chancen
Children's rights are not confined solely to the physical environment. They apply every bit as much in the digital world and form the basis of the core work of the project childrens-rights.digital at Stiftung Digitale Chancen. A major part of our mission is to explain how the rights of children are to be respected in everyday digital life.
The COVID-19 pandemic poses new challenges for people of all ages. However, if there is one tiny upside, it seems likely that when we come out at the other end of the current crisis a large number of people will be more acutely aware of something children have known for a long time. The distinction between analogue and digital, between face-to-face and virtual, is vanishingly small. Obviously certain kinds of social transactions can only be completed if people are in close proximity to each other, but we are all also now learning in a very direct and immediate way just how many social transactions can take place over the internet. Necessity is the mother of invention.
My own screen time has almost doubled in the last week compared to before - because I no longer sit at a table with colleagues but communicate via an online application on my laptop or smartphone. All of our everyday lives have suddenly become much more digital. More than we could have imagined even just a few weeks ago.
What does this mean for children's rights, for the freedoms they are granted and for the protection they need in accordance with the respective articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child?
Children have a right to education (Art. 28), but in families where adults and children normally share the hardware, it can be hard to reconcile home-based employment-related work and schoolwork. Social disadvantage will be further exacerbated where families lack the necessary technical equipment and enough bandwidth to access the internet at acceptable speeds. When the Art. 31 right to play and leisure and to participate in art and culture can only be exercised at home because playgrounds and youth recreation spaces are closed, further conflicts and tensions arise and everybody’s patience can be put to the test.
It has been known for some time that risks to children also increase when they spend larger amounts of time online. These could be in the form of undesirable contacts made through online games, exposure to unsuitable content or dubious purchase offers. These bring to mind the protective rights under Art. 17 (protection of minors in the media), Art. 19 (protection against commercial exploitation) and Art. 34 (protection against sexual abuse) are affected. Currently, the main burden of ensuring that children can use digital media safely rests on the shoulders of their parents. They need support in this regard and responsible action on the part of the platform operators is required, as provided for in the amendment to the German Youth Protection Act.
Despite all their need for protection, children also have a right to privacy even in these unusual times (Art. 16). A lot depends on the age and capabilities of each individual child but, in principle, children have a right to stay in contact with their friends without their parents or siblings "knowing everything", and they are entitled to know that the contents of their communications are not visible to unauthorised persons.
Home is not always the happiest place for every child. For this reason they need to be aware of the contact points outside their family, from which they can confidentially obtain advice and help. Together with advice centres all over Germany, the childrens-rights.digital project is working to ensure that this is possible in accordance with the requirements of the EU data protection regulations. In the current situation, the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs is increasing its support for counselling services so that they can meet the increasing demand from children and young people, see the Ministry's press release with links to a selection of offers.
In politics and administration, in the family and in the wider social environment, the best interest of the child should always have priority in all decisions. This is the basic principle of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It remains every bit as valid and important even in difficult times like these. The significance of digitisation, which has previously been perceived in a rather abstract way, is now becoming clear to an enormously larger circle of people in everyday life.
When we come out of this moment it is likely our understanding of the digital environment will be greatly enlarged and enhanced. In particular, we will have a better understanding of the way in which digital spaces can shape and facilitate contacts between people both in a positive and productive way, but also in less desirable ways. This improved understanding should act as an important spur for progressive change which bodes well both for society as a whole and above all for the realization of children's rights in the digital environment.
Call for participation in the programme development for the IGF 2020Jutta Croll, Stiftung Digitale Chancen, Stiftung Digitale Chancen
The United Nations Multistakeholder Advisory Group calls for active participation in the programme development for the Internet Governance Forum 2020. Proposals for workshops can now be submitted. In addition, there is the possibility to apply for hosting an Open Forum (only open to certain types of organisations), for arranging pre-events on Day Zero (the day before the official opening) and for a booth at the IGF Village. For the first time, all participants with musical talent are also invited to rock the stage at the IGF Music Night.
The deadline for submissions is now extended til April 22nd 2020, at midnight (UTC)!
On invitation by the Polish Government, the 15th Internet Governance Forum will take place in Katowice from 2-6 November 2020 under the main topic Internet United. In order to follow up on the results of the IGF 2019 in Berlin, the three thematic strands of the previous year "Data", "Inclusion" and "Trust" will be continued in Poland and complemented by "Environment" as a fourth strand.
Issues relating to children's rights are of great importance in all four thematic areas. Aspects of protection and security will be addressed particularly in the thematic strand "Trust". In the light of an upcoming General Comment to the UN-Convention on the Rights of the Child in regard of the digital environment the IGF 2020 will provide for an excellent opportunity to discuss theses issues further engaging a multitude of stakeholders from around the globe.
We encourage the child rights community strongly to participate in the programming and to submit a broad range of proposals as it was the case last year. To achieve acceptance of proposals it is particularly important to ensure the diversity in regard of regional origin, societal group, gender and age. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to submit a workshop proposal and you need support in addressing international partner organisations or in selecting speakers. We will also be happy to help you fill in the necessary information in the submission form.
When I grow up I want to be ...Stiftung Digitale Chancen
On 13 February, Safer Internet Day 2020, stakeholders from more than 150 countries around the world will participate in the implementation of measures on its key topic "Together for a better internet". #checkwemdufolgst is the motto set by the initiative klicksafe.de as German coordinator for SID 2020. The main focus is the role of influencers in social media and how to deal with them consciously. Influencers are people who use social media channels with their personal profiles and through their strong presence, their high reputation and their reach in social networks, are able to influence the opinion of others.
From a child rights perspective, various aspects are relevant here: On the one hand, the rights of children as audiences or followers of influencers and, on the other hand, the rights of children who themselves act as influencers.
Due to the large number of different formats, it is often difficult even for adults to tell whether the content disseminated on the channels of influencers is pure self-portrayal, consciously influencing the attitude and opinion of the recipients or product placement. Children, who have less experience in distinguishing between editorial content and advertising, often lack an orientation here. Their right to freedom of expression and the freedom to obtain information (Art. 13 UN-CRC) may be affected by "hidden" messages in the content disseminated by influencers. At the same time, advertising messages, if they provide subtle incentives to buy or even aggressively address children's needs, may violate the child's right to protection from commercial exploitation (Art. 32).
Today, however, children and young people themselves are increasingly appearing as influencers in social media. "Usually the young internet stars can be seen in videos or pictures, testing and evaluating toys and other products, trying on clothes, giving make-up and styling tips or personal recommendations and opinions", write Bettina Goerdeler and Anna Grebe from the initiative agency „Growing up well with media“ in an article in the magazine "Frühe Kindheit der Dt. Liga für das Kind", 2/2019, pp. 42 - 49. This makes the channels of these minors attractive as advertising media for companies, sometimes they even become lucrative sources of income for the families. Goerdeler and Grebe point out that children who act as influencers in this way can lose their self-determination and that the children’s social interactions are increasingly commercialised. Here too, the question arises as to whether the protection against economic exploitation under Art. 32 is still respected, especially since the regulations governing the advertising industry to protect children do not take effect in the private production of online content.
The sometimes deep insights that child influencers provide into their everyday life by publishing photos and videos on the Internet carry the risk of violating their privacy (Art. 16). The minors are most often too young to assess for themselves what consequences this form of self-portrayal may have for their further lives. They are also potentially exposed to being contacted by persons from their audience without knowing their true identity. These contacts probably also bear the risk of infringing children’s right to be protected from sexual abuse (Art. 34).
Last but not least, the child influencers themselves sometimes disregard the personal rights of other children when, for example, their images or voices are made public in the posted content without them being asked.
Influencers are the heroes of today's children: An Internet search with the term "career aspirations influencer" delivers more than 10,000 search-results, and the online magazine "ZEITjUNG" headlines "When I grow up, I'll be an influencer!. In order to ensure that childhood remains a carefree period of life in face of the digital transformation of society, the prevailing circumstances must be renegotiated and redesigned. For growing up well in the digital world, children need orientation and support. They need to know about their own rights, and they need rules that they understand and can act upon accordingly; this includes, for example, posting pictures of others on the Internet only with consent. In addition to educational measures, however, a legal framework is also needed which takes account of new forms of commercialisation of childhood and guarantees respect for children's rights. This will enable us to implement the priority theme of SID 2020 "Together for a better Internet".