IGF 2020 WS #195 Protection or Participation? Child Rights in a New Normal

Wednesday, 11th November, 2020 (09:40 UTC) - Wednesday, 11th November, 2020 (11:10 UTC)
Room 1
About this Session
The global COVID-19 crisis has brought into sharp focus many unresolved challenges relating to Children’s Rights in a digital context, including questions around protection and participation. This session will follow a debate format with speakers sharing perspectives from their experiences and area of expertise. Audience members will be given the opportunity to ask questions and debate the recommendations.

Organizer 1: Intergovernmental Organization, Intergovernmental Organization
Organizer 2: Private Sector, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Speaker 1: Uri Sadeh, Intergovernmental Organization, Intergovernmental Organization
Speaker 2: Bongani Dlamini, Civil Society, African Group
Speaker 3: AMANDA THIRD, Technical Community, Asia-Pacific Group

Additional Speakers

Ohalia will be bringing the practitioner's perspective.


Debate - Auditorium - 90 Min

Policy Question(s)

Subtheme 1: Impact of the Digital Divide on young people Topics: Education; Access to information; Freedom of Association; Freedom of Expression; Right to be heard; Social Development and Mental Health Policy questions: In a world where access to digital content and services is increasingly important, what are the specific impacts on young people who don’t have reliable internet access? Subtheme 2: Online risks Topics: Disinformation, cybersecurity, CSEA Policy questions: In a push to swiftly close the Digital Divide and get internet access to all young people – that is, to maximise opportunity - how can stakeholders simultaneously combat the potential risks connectivity will bring to young people?

The day-to-day realities of managing the COVID 19 pandemic have shone a bright light on a number of considerations that child rights stakeholders have been pushing for several years: digital inclusion, online safety, youth participation, and so on. That the need to address digital divide is more widely acknowledged and understood, for example, is extremely positive. At the same time, many parents and carers have climbed a steep learning curve on internet safety issues during this period. There is now an opportunity to move Child Rights up the policy agenda and we must use this. However, collectively, we must also get ahead of any ‘knee-jerk’ approaches which favour protection over participation, or vice versa, by creating solutions which seek to maximise opportunity whilst combatting potential risks.


GOAL 4: Quality Education
GOAL 5: Gender Equality
GOAL 10: Reduced Inequalities
GOAL 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions


The global COVID-19 crisis has brought into sharp focus many unresolved challenges relating to Children’s Rights in a digital context. The pandemic has caused schools, teachers, parents and children to scramble to find digital solutions to maintain a sense of normalcy in children’s lives – from supporting education through remote learning solutions to maintaining social contact with friends and families. Connectivity has also been critical in getting vital health and safety information about staying safe during the pandemic out to communities. Regrettably, connectivity has also been misused during this time: in its recent report, “Catching the Virus – cybercrime, disinformation and the COVID-19 pandemic”, Europol notes a rise in several types of cybercrime including the spread of fake news and an increased interest from sex offenders in online child sexual abuse material. And what are the additional and specific considerations for those young people who don’t have access to the internet at all at this time? The session will follow a debate format. The 4 speakers will be asked to outline the issues they have encountered relating to children and young people during the COVID-19 period. These could include, for example, the closing of educational settings, the role of information (and disinformation) in keeping children safe and healthy, as well as the impact of social isolation and social distancing requirements. Two of the speakers will talk about protection, and two about participation. Each will be asked to share observations and perspectives from their experience and area of expertise, and they will also be charged with proposing specific policy recommendations for all stakeholders relating to their respective areas. The speakers and participating audience members – both on site and online - will be given the opportunity to ask questions and debate the recommendations. The moderators will support the group in sifting through recommendations collectively and working towards understanding, compromise and collaborative solutions with a view to getting a shortlist of ‘next steps’ and policy recommendations for all IGF stakeholders – based on learnings and experiences from this unique period.

Expected Outcomes

UNICEF and GSMA will produce a short ‘discussion document’ style paper after the session, noting the concerns and opportunities raised, along with proposed policy recommendations and suggestions for collaborative Next Steps.

Participants (including those joining virtually) will be invited to contribute to the debate by asking questions to the panellists and offering their own views and experiences of these issues. As one of the aims of the session is to identify concrete examples of instances where children's rights to protection and participation are achieved in balance, collecting inputs from participants will be an important contribution to the session output.

Relevance to Internet Governance: Child Rights are everyone’s business. By bringing together the collective experience and insights of the session speakers and the wider IGF stakeholder group, we can propose balanced and workable solutions to issues relating to children and connectivity that have been highlighted during the current global pandemic.

Relevance to Theme: The ‘trustworthiness’ of the internet is critical to children being able to reap maximum rewards from its potential to educate, connect, inform and entertain. Indeed, lack of trust in the internet is a key obstacle to participation for many young people as carers and institutions would rather remove access than face potential risk. If governments, private sector players, civil society and academia can work collaboratively towards developing practical solutions, policies and approaches which manage potential risks, then the internet can be better promoted as a tool to support access to fundamental rights.

Online Participation


Usage of IGF Official Tool. Additional Tools proposed: Depending on the final setup of the event (in person or fully virtual) we may benefit from using https://www.sli.do/ or similar platforms to facilitate maximum participation.


1. Key Policy Questions and related issues
‎1.‎ What can policymakers learn about protecting children’s rights from the extreme ‎circumstances brought about by the global pandemic?‎
‎2.‎ How must we balance considerations relating to protection and participation?‎
‎3.‎ What more needs to be done to protect children’s wide-ranging privacy needs (from the right ‎to privacy for victims of online CSAM, to personal privacy in terms of sharing their information, ‎to commercial entities profiting from their data in ways that are not transparent and do not ‎seem fair to them) and meet their expectations from us as key stakeholders?‎
2. Summary of Issues Discussed

Speakers covered:‎

•    Experience of international law enforcement in terms of child sexual abuse and exploitation ‎during the global COVID19 response, in particular ‘lockdown’ – summarizing findings from the ‎INTERPOL’s September report.‎

•    Frontline experience from Sawa, the Palestinian child helpline, which supported an increased ‎number of children contacting them during lockdown about physical and sexual abuse at ‎home, anxiety about economic fallout issues (not enough money for food, unable to afford ‎connectivity to continue lessons), and suicidal ideation.‎

•    Research findings on children’s experience of COVID, including access to education and social ‎groups; reflections on some of the issues facing these and the fact that in our rush to respond ‎to a crisis, children’s views on how their online spaces has, again, been overlooked. ‎

•    Experience of a young leader and UNICEF volunteer from South Africa, who explained how ‎young people who have connectivity have been able to continue to enjoy many of their ‎fundamental rights by moving them into the digital world (for example, online learning, virtual ‎workshops, and mentoring taking place via WhatsApp) – but underscored that the less ‎privileged young people, without connectivity, missed out and became further disadvantaged. ‎

•    Younger children’s online lives: Children are increasingly online – and younger children who ‎were not previously connected came online during lockdown, and are now likely to remain ‎connected, even if prior to the pandemic they would perhaps not have been allowed so young ‎‎– Uri Sadeh.‎


3. Key Takeaways

There was very broad alignment and consensus that the question of ‘protection or participation’ should not be treated as a choice but as an important balance to be struck – with responsibilities for all actors, including industry, policymakers, parents or caregivers, and educators.

Where access to connectivity was available, there was the option to provide continuity – of support services, of education, of school workshops (via zoom) and youth mentoring programmes (via WhatsApp) – showing the potential connectivity to support children’s fundamental participation rights.

The critical importance of closing digital divides also emerged as one area of consensus. The perspectives and arguments shared on this topic include:

  • Observations that throughout the pandemic, technology has provided many children with a vital point of continuity and connection. Of course, this is not true for all children: we urgently need mechanisms for addressing the digital inclusion of those children without regular and reliable access to technology and the internet. But for those with access, technology has been key to their wellbeing, and this is reflected in sharp increases in their use of technology – Amanda Third
  • Pandemic has also taught us how unequal society is. Kids from disadvantaged backgrounds could not continue with e-learning – speaks to need for partnerships with private sector and governments to ensure all kids have access to the same opportunities, no matter their background – Bongani Dlamini
  • Children need to continue with their learning – in response to the pandemic, Sawa staff set up a system for people to donate old mobiles then they distributed them to families. In families with shared devices, not all children could get online to learn – and girls were most likely to suffer from this – Ohaila Shomar
6. Final Speakers
9. Group Photo
IGF 2020 WS #195 Protection or Participation? Child Rights in a New Normal
10. Voluntary Commitment
  • Ohaila Shomar – voluntary community initiative to improve access to learning.
  • Uri Sadeh – commit to continuing daily struggle to meet the protection needs through the continuous work of Interpol’s crimes against children unit.
  • Amanda Third – explore the question of how to realize children’s participation rights under the conditions of physical distancing.
  • Natasha Jackson – to listen to youth voices within GSMA, encouraging our leaders to get young voices on the agenda at our events and encourage business leaders to hear directly from young voices.
  • Bongani Dlamini – 1) continue to share and create stories to raise awareness online; 2) continue having more roadshows around the country to promote safe use of the internet directly with children; 3) volunteer my time to organizations like GSMA and UNICEF to share young people’s experiences.