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Children's rights

Guidance establishes children’s rights carry into digital world

26 March 2021

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The Child Rights Committee published new legal guidance on how governments should protect children’s rights in the digital environment. General Comment 25 on children’s rights in relation to the digital environment says States have a clear responsibility to provide oversight on how children fare in the digital world.

“The digital world should be open for children to learn and play, safely and . . . children must be consulted with regard to how the digital world evolves and how governmental regulations are generated,” said Prof. Philip Jaffé, of the Child Rights Committee (CRC).

Jaffé was referring the newly published General Comment 25 on children’s rights in relation to the digital environment. The general comment establishes that children have rights in the digital world, despite the Convention on the Rights of the Child not stating them explicitly. Jaffé said the general comment shows that States have a clear responsibility to provide regulatory oversight over how children fare in the digital world and to hold businesses accountable to have children’s interests in mind when advertising online.

“The general comment positions children’s human rights at the core of some of humankind’s greatest achievements, at the heart of an evolving informational and technological revolution,” he said.

General Comment 25 has the power to “recalibrate the asymmetric relationship between children and the tech sector,” said Baroness Beeban Kidron, who is the chair of the 5Rights Foundation, an NGO specializing in making changes in the digital world to ensure it caters for children and young people..  The foundation was key in mobilizing children and young people across the globe to contribute to the discussions around the general comment.

 “Children’s rights should be applied to the digital world,” she said. “It is amazing to me that this was not always the case, that somehow as digital technology has been developed and becoming ever present, it seemed that people had forgotten about children.”

Seven hundred children; 27 countries; 2 years; 1 new guide

The general comment is the result of a two-year consultation involving States, inter-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions, civil society, and, most importantly children. More than 700 children and young people, from nine to 22 years old across 27 countries, were asked for their thoughts on how digital technology affected their lives.

Mairéad Reid was one of those young people. The 19-year-old from Scotland was a member of a leadership group within the 5Rights Foundation NGO, that looked to put into better context the rights already promised to children by the Convention.

“It is vitally important for young people to have a say in anything and everything that concerns us,” she said. “Young people are the experts on our lived experience, so we must be listened to and heard.”

Tarique Kenny, 20, from South Africa agreed. The 20-year-old reporter and board member of RX Radio, one of the first radio stations for and by children, said the general comment would help with enforcing the right to quality and affordable internet access across the globe.

“It will ensure that businesses put the best interests of children first in order to make sure that they are protected in a digital environment,” Kenny said. “Language barriers will be bridged so that everyone will have equal access and that safe software…will be put into place.”

In addition to providing input for the general comment, children and young people have also designed a child-friendly version of the general comment. Nearly 300 children from countries across the globe contribute to the creation of In Our Own Words, a user-friendly and more easily understood version of General Comment 25. Mason Rickard, 19 from England, was one of the contributors. “Contributing to the general comment is a way for adults to hear us”, he said. In Our Own Words is for children by children.

“It would be counter-productive to produce a document enshrining children’s digital rights which children themselves cannot understand due to legal jargon and sophisticated language,” he said. “In Our Own Words provides the necessary tools for children to comprehend the general comment and realise their rights.”

Read In Our Own Words – the child-friendly version of CRC General Comment 25 on our Medium site.

26 March 2021

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