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Children’s rights and the digital world

03.12.2020

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted 31 years ago. The convention stipulates the children’s human rights that are universal, with every child in the world entitled to them, irrespective of age, gender, nationality or any other feature. 

At the time when the convention was written. the Internet and other digital communication channels were still very limited in scope and availability. Thus, the text of the convention does not contain references to the digital society. 

Today, the digital way of life and the corresponding environment and equipment have become an inseparable part of our existence. We are increasingly reliant on digital society opportunities in our studies and work to obtain useful information and simply to be entertained. We are constantly consuming an expanding the range of e- services.  Children are active users of digital technologies. These days, one out of three Internet users worldwide is a child.

The convention includes the participatory right of the child, meaning among other aspects the right to receive age-appropriate information for learning, development of abilities and entertainment. Every child also has the right to provide information about themselves in a way the child prefers to do.  But the convention also includes the right of the child to obtain age-appropriate help, support and protection whenever necessary.

The global Internet era poses several challenges in the context of implementation of these rights. Our digital world offers children excellent opportunities for studying, participating, communicating, consuming information and being creative, but there are also substantial risks: exposure to harmful information, sexual abuse, cyberbullying and so on.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child obligates the state to enforce children’s rights, but the digital age requires international dialogue and cooperation because the Internet ignores national borders. It is crucial that the voices of children are heard in this dialogue as well. Involvement of children in the process of shaping and regulating new technologies is important to ensure proper coverage of their views, their experience and their vision. Children of various ages should be engaged in this task because new needs and interests appear as children pass through different stages of their growth. Cooperation with children and young adults also boosts development and implementation of relevant and effective protection measures. 

Therefore, children need the help of adults when applying their rights online, but when adults are making the corresponding decisions, they need to hear what children think instead of assuming what would be best for children.

Together, we can facilitate the enforcement of children’s rights.

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