Children’s rights in the digital age
What is the issue?
While children are some of the most active users of the internet, connected devices and social media, they are systematically left out of the debate when it comes to developing policies which govern their access. This has resulted in blanket limitations on children’s use of the internet, as well as their activities online being monitoring to make sure that they only access material that their parents or the State deem appropriate.
What is the problem?
The policy approach to children’s digital rights is frequently cautious and reactionary, as many governments err in favour of limiting children’s rights in the name of protection.
For instance, even though installing blocks on web pages is intended to stop children from viewing content which may be harmful or inappropriate, it has also led to websites about politics, sexual health, drug use, and even those of children’s rights charities being blocked. Despite parental controls being put in place for similar reasons, they also place children’s right to access information at the discretion of their parents, who, in some cases, are less informed about the internet than their children. Surveillance systems that monitor and direct which websites children can access also give parents overreaching control of their children’s devices, which, in some cases, they can even block remotely.
These increased restrictions have come as children’s use of digital technology has skyrocketed, but they have not been coupled with equal efforts to increase digital literacy among not only children, but parents too. This is especially necessary in the face of mass data collection and other information coveted by advertisers, such as user location, which leaves children’s data potentially open to exploitation.
What is the solution?
States have a legal duty to safeguard children against harmful content and abuse, but not at the expense of their rights to privacy and access to information. A strategic approach to parenting and policymaking in the digital domain should therefore rest on protection and education that is focused around digital literacy. From an early age and throughout their development, children should be taught about their digital rights, the opportunities of the internet, as well as the risks it poses and how to confront them. This way children will be empowered with the knowledge to make informed choices about their activity online without the need for restrictive policies.
Issue page: Explore our work on “online harms”
Briefing: Children’s rights in the digital age
Campaign: Protect children, end censorship
Policy paper: Unblock children’s access to information
Related content: A-Z index rights issues