International report affirms children’s rights in digital world

A new report led by Western Sydney University and the 5Rights Foundation has documented the digital experiences of children across the globe, informing a landmark guidance released by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which affirms that children’s rights apply in the digital world.

UNCRC General Comment 25 (GC25) provides vital guidance to States, NGOs and private enterprise to enable children to realise their rights in the digital world. It was drafted by a team led by the 5Rights Foundation, in partnership with the UNCRC, and was formally adopted in March this year.

Crucially, GC25 was directly informed by insights from 709 children and young people aged 9-21 years old in 27 countries, as detailed in the ‘Our rights in the digital world: A report on the children’s consultations to inform UNCRC General Comment 25’ .

Launched at Western Sydney University today, key findings from the report include:

  • Children believe that the digital environment is critical to realising their rights in the contemporary world. They call for all children, everywhere, to have routine and reliable access to technology.
  • Children are calling on parents and carers to afford them greater trust and autonomy to use digital technologies responsibly; to be better informed about the benefits and harms relating to digital technologies; to develop their own digital literacies; and to role model appropriate technology use for children.
  • Children see digital technologies as fundamental to their right to access information and participate in society as educated and informed citizens. They want access to trusted and truthful sources of information.
  • Children want adults to acknowledge the joy, relaxation, and learning they derive from their digital play experiences and to afford them greater responsibility in balancing their right to play with other rights.
  • Children are calling on governments to enact stricter legislation to protect their privacy, and they want technology providers to communicate much more clearly about how digital services work, and how they collect, store and use children’s data.
  • Children call for access to confidential, child-centred and evidence-based digital health services and trustworthy sources of health information, particularly on taboo or sensitive topics.

Lead author of the report, Professor Amanda Third, from the University’s Young and Resilient Research Centre based at the Institute for Culture and Society, said the study is significant as it represents the largest consultation undertaken on behalf of the UNCRC to date and surfaces the very diverse views of children all around the world.

“The Convention on the Rights of the Child is the foundation for global action on children’s rights, however, it was ratified before digital technology began to impact the lives of children in the ways it does today,” said Professor Third.

“Importantly, our report found children view digital technologies as fundamental to their rights to education, health, information and expression. They also believe being online is critical to their ability to connect with each other, relax and have fun. They have high aspirations for the ways that digital technologies can support broad-based social change.”

“In speaking about their digital experiences, children raised valid concerns about privacy and safety and are urging parents and carers, private enterprise and governments to better protect them.”

The report was a collaboration between Western Sydney University and the 5Rights Foundation, together with over one hundred volunteer organisations who assisted with the conduction of workshops undertaken between May and September in 2019.

5Rights Foundation Chair Baroness Kidron OBE, who chaired the General Comment 25 Steering Group, said: “It’s official – children’s rights apply in the digital world. This is a major step forward for how we conceive of the responsibilities of governments and technology businesses – they must now act in children’s best interests, and observe their rights to privacy, safety and access to information that is truthful, adapted to their age and in their own language.”

“I am delighted to see the consultation with children published today, their views are central to the GC25 and will impact on children around the world.”

Australia’s eSafety Commissioner, Julie Inman Grant, said: “Just as the rights of children must be protected in the real world, it’s important not to forget that these rights must also be protected in the digital world.”

“eSafety looks to drive forward on the principles and solutions outlined in the General Comment and continue our important work of protecting children online so they can continue to express themselves, explore their identities and the world around them safely.”

As Australia looks to activate the GC25, the research team highlight the importance of the nation working with its regional counterparts to ensure that all children, everywhere, can participate safely online, and to maximum benefit.

Margaret Sheehan, Chief Executive Officer of ChildFund Australia, said: “GC25 has practical meaning for children and young people in the Pacific who are impacted by remoteness and isolation, extreme weather events and subsequent disrupted education.”

“Great improvements in broadband connectivity in the Pacific requires that we take action to ensure that children and young people, many of them first-time Internet users, can come online safely.”

In addition, the researchers are calling for insights from the report to be further utilised by policymakers, professionals, parents and carers, and children themselves, alongside the directives outlined in the GC25, to ensure that the digital environment is responsive to the rights, needs, and wants of children across the globe.

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