12 September 2014

Some Reflections on #DGD2014: Digital Media and Children's Rights

It has been interesting following today's Day of General Discussion (DGD) held by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, on the topic of "Digital Media and Children's Rights". You can follow the discussion which took place on twitter, by using the hashtag #DGD2014.

The discussion has just drawn to a close and here are a few, brief reflections.

The UNCRC in the Digital Age

This morning, I wrote a post and asked this question: Created in a world without social media and selfies, can the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child keep up with digital and technological issues faced by today's children?

This great tweet from EU Kids Online, of a slide from speaker, Sonia Livingstone, shows how various articles of the Convention can be effectively used to protect children and their rights with respect to digital media:

The Digital Divide 

I referred to the digital divide in my post this morning. John Carr of EPCAT spoke about this issue, saying that it is common to think about the digital divide being between the Global North and Global South, but that internet access is not equal across the North. There is less access in poorer parts of the North and there are disparities within the same country. For example, poorer people in the USA have less access to digital technologies.

The digital divide does not just occur along economic lines. Some speakers stated that certain groups are particularly excluded from access to the internet, such as girls, children with disabilities and children living in institutional care. In the closing session, it was said that digital resources should be available in all parts of the world and that universal access is a goal to work towards. States should be asked to ensure equal access to digital media, and provide free or low-cost access in all areas.

Negative Impacts of Using the Internet

Concerns were expressed by various speakers about children's privacy, their digital footprint and the fact that they may post things online during "experimental times of their lives" and that they do not realise the permanence of this, as these posts, picture and videos will then remain online.

Cyber-bullying and sexual exploitation are major issues. A moving account was given by one speaker of the terrible impact cyber bullying and harassment had on her life when she was a teenager.


The above issues all illustrate the need for protection. John Carr stated that it is important that we do not think of all children as the same. Some groups are much more vulnerable than others online. Rabi Karmacharya of One Laptop per Child said that we cannot rely on parents to protect children online. Parents may be illiterate, or may simply be at work and so are not around when children are using the internet at home. I tweeted that last quote, and got this reply from Child to Child:

This tweet from Child to Child echoed the sentiments of some of the speakers during the day, who said that children should play a key role in protecting themselves and their peers against harm and that the empowerment of children in digital media is essential to "maximise beneficial effects and minimise harm". Education in digital literacy - of children, parents, teachers and others working with and for children - will help. 

Protection versus Control

Sonia Livingstone said that protection is key, but that this cannot be a priority which is used to reduce child participation online. Other speakers emphasised the fact that "we must not confuse protection with control". One speaker highlighted the issue that many see children as "becomings" - growing into future adults - but they are "beings" and active agents in this world right now, both online and offline, and they should be part of the solution in ensuring protection online. There must be a balance between protection and the child's right to participation.


This was not an issue I had mentioned in my earlier post, but it is an important one. One speaker made the point that digital advertising has an impact on children's rights. For example, she spoke about the impact on babies' right to health in the context of online advertising and campaigns from companies selling breast milk substitutes. It would also be interesting to further explore what regulation there is, or could be, with regards to advertising aimed at under-18s using the internet.

Guide to Human Rights for Internet Users

This Guide, published by the Council of Europe was referred to by one of the speakers. It has a section dedicated to children and young people. You can find the Guide here.

All in all, it was a very interesting day, with much discussion around a very relevant topic in today's world. Many other great points were made, but those I have included above are the ones which stood out the most for me. Please do add to this, or let me know which points you felt were most interesting in the comments below. It would be great to hear your opinions!

Digital Media and Children's Rights: A Day of Discussion

Have you used the internet as part of a school project? Were you, or one of your classmates, ever in trouble for using a mobile phone in class? If you were a child or teenager in 1989, your answer would have to be 'no'.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which sets out the rights that all children have, was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1989, at a time when technology was not so advanced, nor as widely accessible, as it is today. Created in a world without social media and selfies, can the Convention keep up with digital and technological issues faced by today's children?

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child is responsible for reviewing progress made by States parties to implement the UNCRC. Today, it will be holding its Day of General Discussion (DGD) and the topic is "Digital Media and Children's Rights".

The Committee has asked children and teenagers for their views on the internet and how they use it. Children and teenagers are the ones who can give us all an insight into this and can help us understand their experiences online. In any case, child participation is one of the guiding principals of the UNCRC and children and young people should be part of discussions and dialogues on issues which affect them.

There are many issues children face online, including cyber-bullying, "sexting", having access to adult content and being exposed to sexual exploitation. While there are many threats, children and teenagers can benefit greatly from having access to the internet, when it is used in a safe way. It can enhance their education, be used for communication, make information more accessible and allow for collaboration with other students. Children and teenagers will also have more opportunities later in life if they have access to, and understand, how to use computers and the internet as many jobs rely on this knowledge.

This picture, from UNICEF Malaysia  illustrates how positive, and what potential there can be, for children using technology:

There are great concerns about children who do not have the opportunity to access technology. The term, "digital divide", refers to the gap between those who have ready access, and the skills to utilise, information and communication technologies and the internet, and those who do not.

My own organisation, Children's Helpers Worldwide, supports locally-run children's projects around the world.  Two education centres we support in South Africa and Romania have computers and an internet connection. Most of the children who attend the South African centre come from townships, whilst the majority of the children at the Romanian centre come from poverty-stricken Roma communities. Without these centres, they would not have the chance to familiarise themselves with this technology. One of the areas to be discussed at the DGD, is the inequality children face in accessing these resources and how this affects their rights.

There are many issues surrounding children's use of the internet, but one thing we can all agree on, is that it is here to stay. Advances in technology often occur more rapidly than the time it takes to make policy and pass legislation, making it challenging for law-makers to keep up. It is very positive that today's DGD will focus on Digital Media and Children's Rights and this will clarify how the Convention can protect children and their rights online in today's world. The discussion should be an interesting and a fruitful one.

Watch the discussion, taking place in Geneva, live here.
Join in the discussion on twitter, following the hashtag #DGD2014 or by leaving comments on this facebook event page.