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Protecting Children’s Rights in the Digital Age

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Children’s Rights in the Digital Age: A download from children around the world, Published by Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre and UNICEF, in partnership with the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University,   ISBN: 978-0-9925966-4-4

In an era of rapid globalization, digital media has become a powerful way for children and young people to realize their rights, from accessing information, playing games, to expressing themselves freely and even anonymously. The latest digital technologies have a crucial role to play in empowering children by facilitating communication, education and activism. However, there are also new or evolving risks in this changing environment. Yet not all children have equal access to digital media. Even with access, digital media poses risks for children such as internet safety and cyber-bullying.  As it becomes increasingly difficult to draw the line between offline and online, it is necessary for us to examine how this changing environment impacts the wellbeing and development of children and their rights. In this regard, the publication ‘Children’s Rights in the Digital Age: A download from children around the world’ is a very useful and comprehensive resource for all working for the betterment of the children and young people.

In April 2014, the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University and UNICEF co-hosted, in collaboration with PEW Internet, EU Kids Online, the Internet Society (ISOC), Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI), and YouthPolicy.org, a first of its kind international ‘Digitally Connected’ symposium on children, youth, and digital media. The symposium raised a key question that gained special relevance given the focus of the Committee on the Rights of the Child 2014 Day of General Discussion: ‘How can we give children and young people voice in the debate that explores the impact of digital access and use and their rights?’

The publication focuses on 10 core messages derived from this ‘Digitally Connected’ symposium: 1). For children in the developing world, and for some in the developed world, access is still the biggest issue they face in relation to using digital media to enact their rights. 2). Regardless of the country they live in, the language they speak, or their socio-economic background, if children have regular and reliable access to digital media, they tend to use it for a common set of purposes: social connectedness; access to information; education; self-expression/creativity; and entertainment. 3). Literacy, the tri-fold literacy of today’s very user-driven digital media environment – digital, media and social literacy – is fundamental to children’s capacity to use digital media competently and exercise their rights in and with digital media. 4). While children noted that digital media facilitates their communicative, educational and informational needs, many children found it difficult to articulate the ways that digital media enhanced their lives and their rights in more specific and precise terms.

 5). Children understand their digital rights as closely intertwined with their human rights more broadly. They do not readily distinguish between the online and the offline but regard digital spaces as just another setting in which they carry out their lives. 6). Children’s safety in connected media is vital, but it needs to be understood in the context of the spectrum of their digital rights, for example, in balance with children’s rights of provision and participation in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. 7). By engaging with digital media they learn new skills and develop their talents; they become informed citizens of the world who can contribute meaningfully to their communities; and they foster friendships, family ties, and a sense of community and belonging. 8). Children worry about how their digital participation might compromise their protection rights, and they take active steps to keep themselves safe. 9). Children say that the rights they enjoy in relation to digital media come with real responsibilities. These include understanding the consequences of their engagements, being personally accountable for the ways their online interactions impact others, and knowing when to exercise self-control. 10). Policy makers and practitioners must engage children in an ongoing conversation about how to use digital media to support children’s rights. They want to take responsibility for making the internet a better place, and they have valuable expertise to share.

From these core messages based on the discussions of the symposium it is very clear that we need to take the necessary steps to ensure that all children can reap the opportunities of digital access, advancing their rights, while also ensuring their safety. Since the adoption of the ‘Convention on the Rights of the Child’ in 1989, the world has undergone significant cultural change, of which the rapid development of digital media is one defining aspect. The challenge today is thus to rethink the rights enshrined in the Convention in light of the digital age. Ultimately, digital media is a powerful force that can inevitably play a crucial role in shaping a modern understanding of children's rights, and it is therefore important that this potential is harnessed and directed into positive channels.

The writer is an independent researcher. E-mail: smrayhanulislam@hotmail.com

  • Protecting Children’s Rights in the Digital Age
  • S. M. Rayhanul Islam

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