12 September 2014

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.

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