Setting children’s rights in the Internet governance agenda

16 Nov 2020 13:20h - 14:50h

Event report

The session discussed how children’s participation and rights online can be preserved and protected, as well as the role of evidence-based research in creating regulations that protect children’s rights online in terms of access, privacy, education, equal opportunities, etc.

Owing to the changing digital environment, children are globally experiencing changes to their online rights, including the right to freedom of expression, the right to privacy, as well as infringements of their rights.

Ms Amanda Third (Principal Research Fellow, Institute for Culture & Society, Western Sydney University) shared findings of the children’s consultation carried out by 28 organisations in 28 countries, which indicate that: children want to be part of the decision-making process; children are concerned about issues related to access in terms of connectivity and content in their own language; children want quality and evidence-based information, especially on sensitive topics such as sexuality, mental health, etc.; children want their privacy needs to be addressed; children trust governments more than companies; and children want to be engaged and have their voices heard.

Ms Sonia Livingstone (Professor, Department of Media and Communications, London School of Economics and Political Science) shared updates on the Global Kids Online initiative and how the initiative is gathering evidence-based data regarding children, and making the evidence and research results available to communities to use in a transparent manner. She also highlighted the online risks and opportunities for children based on their latest research report conducted in 11 countries.

In terms of research challenges, Livingstone highlighted the complexity in: gathering evidence regarding children and the digital environment in different countries because of language differences and life circumstances; and identifying children online (i.e., recognising their age, vulnerability or resilience of their circumstances, the interconnection of issues, etc.). She also pointed to the lack of research and understanding of how risk can translate to harm.

Mr Guilherme Canela Godoi (Adviser, Communication and Information, MERCOSUR (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay) and Chile, UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)) suggested more research on structural issues, such as the way platforms are organised, how artificial intelligence (AI) is used, and how these topics relate to challenges which children face online.

Godoi highlighted eight issues that need to be addressed from the policy and regulatory perspectives to protect children’s rights:

  1. ensure that regulations that negatively affect children’s rights in terms of education, privacy, opportunities, etc., are not implemented;
  2. ensure policies go deeper into concepts to avoid putting different issues in the same basket (e.g. many governments are making rules to govern hate speech and disinformation with one single regulation which can negatively impact the rights of children);
  3. empower gatekeeps for children, such as the media, social media influencers, teachers, etc.;
  4. review the role of the industry and industry platforms in terms of transparency and accountability (social media and messaging platforms should be treated differently based on their specific characteristics);
  5. conduct more research on the impacts of the gaming industry, including embedded chat, hate speech, advertisements, etc.;
  6. create more child-related content, such as content related to the pandemic;
  7. review the concept of children under the Convention on Human Rights, especially on issues related to elections and similar (e.g. the voting age for children in Brazil is 16, even though persons under 18 are considered children per the Convention); and
  8. conduct more research and create policies regarding the impact digital technologies have on children’s mental health.

Ms Maria Alejandra Trossero (Adolescent and HIV Specialist, UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF)) and Mr Patricio Cabello (Psychologist, Central University, Chile) pointed to the education crisis due to COVID-19. Trossero mentioned that 137 million children in Latin America and the Caribbean were missing out on education which is leading to huge inequalities. Cabello shared another child-related inequality arising during the pandemic, based on their study in Latin America, i.e., issues related to overall health, including mental health. He highlighted the growing inequalities both in terms of skills and opportunities between the under-connected children working vis-à-vis the connected elite, and its expected impact on their future education. He highlighted the need for policymakers to discuss the growing inequalities in terms of education, and the need to bridge the divides within families and schools, and through the community.

Other topics included: the importance of extending access to all children everywhere; the need to scrutinise existing processes and make them more child-friendly and be open to their participation; the need to discuss child-related issues across segments and sectors; and the need for more collaboration across sectors.

Trossero emphasised the need to ensure safe learning environments for children; safe communication between children and teachers online; the need for technology companies to work with governments to shape regulations and improve access; have companies make online resources free or available at negligible rates; the need to analyse how to ensure that national regulations and initiatives trickle down to local levels; and ensure reporting mechanisms work.

Godoi suggested that when creating regulations, it is important to refrain from putting too much responsibility on the family and children for protecting children online.

Third suggested to look at leveraging participation and protection together, and emphasised the need to engage with children on issues related to the governance of their rights online. This includes engaging in conversation with children, designing processes in consultation with them, building capacity in organisations to generate evidence with children, better processes for listening to the voices of children, and have a long-term plan in mind and start acting on it.

Toressero highlighted importance of safer mechanisms on different levels, such as education, participation, regulations with the private sector, engaging with the private sector, and bridging the gap between governments and the private sector.