The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) first defines a child to be any human being under the age of 18; the definition of the child's age is particularly important in the child's right to protection. A second key definition is the right for the child to grow up in a family, while a fundamental aspect of the whole philosophy of the Convention is the right to respect and decide always in the "interest" of the child. The Convention is ratified today by all states of the world (with the exception of the United States of America).
But, how do children perceive their rights in a digital age? That's the question!
To mark Universal Children Day, the Czech National Safer Internet Centre (SIC) organised two debates with children on children's rights as enshrined within the Convention and, especially, their place in today's digital world. The debates took place at Lupacova Primary School in Prague; a summary of the discussions follow.
The very first Articles of the Convention raised questions - Article 3 of the Convention states that "the interest of the child must be a primary consideration in any activity relating to children ...". It also speaks of the protection and care necessary for the child's wellbeing. Article 17 also mentions the function of mass media and the provision of information and resources aimed at developing the child's social, spiritual and moral wellbeing, as well as their physical and mental health.
Question: What is the interest and wellbeing of a child in the digital age?
The children agreed that although interest and wellbeing are very vague concepts, they are definitely related and can be characterised by the following terms: safety, having their own opinions, privacy, equality online, be safe from harm, to behave well, and to have an opportunity to do what they enjoy. Feeling good and "blaze" online also means being popular – for example, having lots of likes.
In Article 5 of the Convention, states undertake to respect the responsibilities, rights and obligations of parents aimed at securing the child's orientation and guidance in exercising the rights under the Convention in accordance with its evolving abilities. Article 18 states that states provide parents with the necessary assistance in fulfilling their childcare tasks.
Question: What are the rights and responsibilities of parents in the digital age? Are parents ready? Does the state provide them with sufficient help?
The children felt that parents are not ready for the digital world and cannot even reflect, let alone orient and direct their children's digital capabilities. Some parents control the activities of children on the internet and that can be good, but they also lack sufficient education and insight to "not take it so seriously". The state or other institutions do not provide parents with the necessary assistance to take into account the reality of the digital age; there is no systematic parenting or adequate state support.
Article 12 of the Convention talks about the right of the child to speak freely in all matters concerning him or her, whereas states shall give appropriate attention to the children's opinion...
Question: What is children's attention focused on online?
Children do not know how nor with whom to talk about their rights and opinions, or feel able to address state institutions in order to change things. They would welcome the existence of an online platform where they could express themselves and somebody really cares about what they are saying. They would also welcome the establishment of a children's ombudsman in the country.
Article 16 of the Convention deals with the protection of the child's privacy.
Children found that the lack of education in privacy protection in the digital age fundamentally jeopardises their ability, and the ability of their parents and society, to defend themselves and be protected from threats and attacks on their privacy. Privacy is constantly hampered by digital technologies and low knowledge of online threats, as well as the ways to effectively defend themselves - using mobile phones, unsecured online communications, publishing personal data on social networks, during online gaming, public camera systems, but also threats of the Internet of Things (IoT), to give just a few examples. In summary, the children felt that privacy needs to take precedence over the internet!
The children made various other suggestions as a result of the discussion:
- The Convention (nor any other standard) defines the right to childhood, that is the right not to be a "small adult" with adult responsibilities. Children shall be guaranteed the right to play freely according to their own wishes and dreams, without any mentoring of parents.
- The Convention (nor any other standard) does not guarantee the right to free life without digital technology. One must have the right to protect his or her privacy endangered by the internet, avoiding any online gadgets, or to live without digital technology without being financially or otherwise restricted or punished. Some people may prefer to live and communicate in the same way people lived and communicated for thousands of years before the internet appeared in 1994!
- Privacy and personal data protection in accordance with the requirements of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is something that influences digital life but children were not consulted (see www.facebook.com/GDPRhaveyoursay/).
- State representatives and government should prepare a Children's National Digital Society Strategy to help to define:
a) What is a digital society for children, how the digital society is regulated, and how it affects children's lives.
b) What children expect from adults to feel good and safe in the digital society.
c) How to make the digital society child friendly.
d) What is the digital future and consequences of the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and digital surveillance on the society where children are growing up and where they will look for jobs and future wellbeing.
The question we must ask ourselves is, are we ready to help children react in a concrete way on their incentives?
Find out more about the work of the Czech Safer Internet Centre, including its awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services.