IGF 2021 – Day 1 – WS #133 Delivering children’s rights in the digital world

The following are the outputs of the captioning taken during an IGF virtual intervention. Although it is largely accurate, in some cases it may be incomplete or inaccurate due to inaudible passages or transcription errors. It is posted as an aid, but should not be treated as an authoritative record.



>> We all live in a digital world. We all need it to be open and safe. We all want to trust.

>> And to be trusted.

>> We all despise control.

>> And desire freedom.

>> We are all united.

>> SONIA LIVINGSTONE: Okay. I think we are, oh, good, I've been made the host. Good. I think then we are going to get going. And make a start on this session.

And I would like to thank my fellow panelists and our audience for being with us here today to discuss the challenge of Delivering Children's Rights in a Digital World.

So we have an hour for some really interesting questions and discussion. And I'm just going to very briefly set the scene and introduce the speakers. And invite everyone else to be thinking of their questions and be ready to participate in this session, which is really meant to be an interactive.

So the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child earlier this year adopted General Comment No. 25 on children's rights in relation to the digital environment. As you may or may not know, the Convention on the Rights of the Child is the most ratified treaty around the world. But for much of its 30 years, it's not said so much on the question of the digital environment. And what has been said in the child rights world has been more focused on protection than on recognizing the relevance of the full range of children's rights.

Once the General Comment was adopted, it really does make it kind of official, if you like, that all the articles of the Convention on Rights of the Child apply in a digital world. It's an authoritative document. And it sets out in some detail the responsibilities of states and business in ensuring a digital world that respects, protects, and fulfills all the rights of all children online and, indeed, offline where they are impacted by the advent of digital technologies.

So we have here as speakers today one member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, Philip Jaffe, and several members of the Drafting Committee, as I will introduce. We really are keen to have a discussion about what next. How do we take forward the work of the Committee on the Rights of the Child and how do we kind of bring that thoroughly into discussion with the Internet Governance Forum and those concerned really with Internet governance globally.

So we want to think about impact, outcomes, responsibilities, and the actions of many stakeholders. I'm aware that we have after the session another session that's really going to focus on the General Comment in relation to legislation. So I thought we would keep this conversation open and think about the responsibilities of all the different kinds of stakeholders, public, private, and third sector, and how they come together.

So if anyone has questions about the text, itself, about its Guiding Principles, about the practical challenges, this is the moment to think about it.

So let me introduce our speakers. We're going to first hear from Philip Jaffe who is a Professor at the University of Geneva in Switzerland. Founding former Director of its Centre of Children's Rights Studies. And in 2018, he was elected to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. He's originally a clinical and forensic psychologist. For many years his academic activities have focused on children's rights and child protection.

After Philip, we'll hear from Beeban Kidron. A member of the UK House of Lords and Founder and Chair of the 5Rights Foundation. She is a thought leader. Wherever children interact with the digital world, including innovating in relation to data protection, age assurance, and artificial intelligence. She's a member of the UNESCO Convention of Sustainable Development and Global Council on Extended Intelligence. I don't know if there are other types of global councils.

Gerison Lansdown will speak next. She's published widely on children's rights internationally. Founding Director of the Children's Rights Alliance for England and works as a consultant for UNICEF and preparing several General Comments for the Committee on the Rights of the Child. I've probably forgotten something. And now the digital environment.

I realize I forgot to introduce myself. I'm Sonia Livingstone from the Department of Media and Communications from the London School of Economics and Political Science. I responded to many of the responses that came in from stakeholders around the world and in relation to children. I currently work with UNICEF on Global Kids Online and with the 5Rights Foundation on the Digital Futures Commission.

And I believe somewhere ‑‑ oh, yes. On this Zoom screen, but not showing his face, is Daral Williams, a Policy Officer at 5Rights. Daral has a background, hello, in qualitative and quantitative research, specializing in children and young people. He's very kindly volunteered or been volunteered to write the report on this session. So we have a document of everything that is being said.

So in turn, we're going to hear from Philip, Beeban, Gerison, and I shall add some comments for about eight minutes each. Then we're going to have time for questions and so I'm going to kick off by turning the floor over to Professor Philip Jaffe. I'm going to try to do the screen‑sharing business on his behalf.

>> PHILIP JAFFE: Thank you very much, Sonia. Good afternoon to everyone. Let me quickly just underscore how proud I am to be sharing this virtual stage with all three of the ladies here. And just acknowledge how much of a contribution 5Rights and you as experts have made for the General Comment that we'll be talking about this afternoon.

So I will provide a very general overview of the significance, the process, and the content, of the General Comment.

First to be clear, the rights of children in the digital environment have been on the radar of a lot of people for a very long time. And for the Committee on the Rights of the Child as well at least since 2012, more or less. And especially since 2014 when we held a general day of discussion on the topic at the UN in Geneva.

As years ticked by, it became very urgent. You can go to the next slide. That the committee provide guidance on this important topic. Given that as far as children's rights are concerned, the digital environment was and perhaps you'll probably agree, it still is the wild far west in need of regulation.

General Comment is not a small deal. It's a document that provides robust guidance to 196 governments. And many of you are familiar with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. And that it is a binding document.

But since 1989, not a comma has changed. So every General Comment is proof that the convention is alive and kicking. It signals how the committee asks governments, Civil Society, and all stakeholders, to interpret a specific right.

With General Comment 25, the committee entered a whole new universe. The digital world. And made strong recommendations regarding the need to take children into account. And to try to establish rules for their healthy presence and to protect them where we could.

At the centre is this challenge that children's digital rights must cover children's evolving capacities in a digital universe. That is changing at lightning speed. Along with technological advances that move much faster than our governmental regulations.

So on process, I would just like to underscore that many, many children were consulted in very well‑designed regional consultations. Just to demonstrate that participation of children is not a buzzword.

And, obviously, there were many consultations, and Sonia referred to this, with Civil Society, stakeholders, and, obviously, governments. So‑called states parties.

Let me move on to content. You can go to the next slide. If you've not read the General Comment, it's 20 dense pages long. A document. It contains 125 paragraphs. It's a comprehensive document that covers many areas and many more than we'll cover even if all of us took a share of them this afternoon.

Today, I'll just highlight three areas, basically. You can go to the next slide. Best interests. Access. And protection and evolving capacities.

I often say, and this is no surprise to my colleagues here, that my favorite paragraphs are paragraphs 12 and 13. And if you go to the next slide, I'll just read them out really quickly. On best interests. States parties should ensure that, in all actions regarding the provision, regulation, design, management and use of the digital environment, the best interests of every child is a primary consideration. This is really important to underscore. I'm not going to read the whole paragraph 13. Just if you could pay attention to what is in bold. And the references, again, to best-interests principle. Which is really, really core in the thinking of the committee.

Access and protection. The next slide. There's a lot to say on this count. But, perhaps, a starting point is just to stress that the General Comment does not fall into the trap of the dominant popular narrative that the digital world is filled with dangers. And that the paramount concern of every adult in government should be to provide children with as much protection as possible. But the committee and its external experts try to do, I think, is rather successfully, indeed, is strike a careful balance between protection and access.

And the digital world must ‑‑ for children ‑‑ must be open for exploration, learning, and leisure. Access, and many other rights go along with that. Respect for the freedom of assembly. Children's privacy. Of course, protection needs to be ensured. And, of course, especially for younger children.

So risky and life‑endangering negative practices must be at the very least monitored and to the greatest extent possible eradicated in the digital environment.

Let me end with evolving capacities. Which refers to Article 5 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Which calls on everyone to respect the maturation process of children. Who from a total dependency during infancy, grow and mature toward adult autonomy. And, obviously, this is particularly significant in the digital environment because children are immersed much more than adults in this environment. And almost from the start, they demonstrate higher proficiency levels than their grown‑up caregivers. I can testify to that. My 9‑year‑old son refers to me as a Neanderthal in terms of digital skills.

But careful, evolving capacities is a complex notion that's intertwined with psychological, social, and neurocerebral development. There are moments during developmental phases during when we know, in fact, science knows that the safe and sound evolving capacities of children depend very heavily on having in‑person physical and even skin contact with other human beings.

And in this sense, I just want to maybe paradoxically underline that young children should be protected from screens to a large extent. When screens take them away from crucial phases of social development.

And at the same time, it must be recognized, again, in this general argument on evolving capacities, that for adolescents, their digital presence sometimes counts much more than their physical interactions. And this, to some extent, needs to be respected by adults.

Now, I know time is short. So let me end with, perhaps, a little bit of a cosmic poetry. The pace of innovation in the digital world is just amazing. But it's also well matched by this maturation process in children. Especially during neurocerebral spurts in early childhood. Also later on when children outgrow their parents at record speed. And at the same time, the technology with which they co‑habitat is ever more ubiquitous and more interactive.

So let me assert in many ways the digital environment is at its core the children's environment. Even though it was only conceived for adults, by adults. But I want to make this argument. It should be seen more as a child's environment. And going forward, this should command all our attention ‑‑ everyone's attention to this very important area of children's rights.

And with that, Sonia, let me hand back the floor to you. Thank you very much.

>> SONIA LIVINGSTONE: Great. Thank you, Philip. I'm contemplating my mortality now as our generation gives way to the children who will, indeed, inherit the Internet and the greater digital world. Whatever that might bring. Yes, it's really crucial we get that right. Thank you so much.

Let me turn to Beeban Kidron, regulation, how that's been taken up by some influential bodies around the world. Over to you. Thank you.

>> BEEBAN KIDRON: Thank you, Sonia, Philip, as well. It's lovely to go after you. I feel persuaded of the very great fundamental importance of the work of the General Comment and, indeed, the convention more broadly.

As Sonia said, I was asked to talk a little bit about principles for regulation. And then also some of what we've seen in the last year. And I think that in setting out, I decided to set out five thoughts or five things that just keep on coming up in the regulatory arena. And, in a way, they echo but I hope don't repeat what Philip said. Because it is extraordinary to me how very often I find myself having the same argument. And I think it speaks to the value of the work of the convention and of the General Comment.

When I say that the first principle is that a child is a child until they mature, not until the moment they pick up a smartphone. And as ludicrous as that sounds, we have to realize that the operating, that the vast area of regulation of any kind in the world for children is 13. The age of adulthood. The de facto age of adulthood is 13. And this is an enormous ‑‑ this is an enormous stone to move.

Now, in the UK, we managed to move it in Data Protection Law in the Age Appropriate Design Code. Even now as we argue about the Digital Services Act in Europe and, indeed, in some work that we're doing further afield. What we keep on coming across is concepts of minor or concepts of going with what technology companies terms "state."

I think the first thing the General Comment does in asserting children's rights is hang on a minute, all children deserve privileges, protections, rights. They deserve what is inherent and given to them by way of the convention.

As Philip already pointed out and I'm sure Gerison will extrapolate on, that's in relation to their evolving capacity. We're not saying a 5‑year‑old needs the same set of considerations as a 17‑year‑old. But a 17‑year‑old still needs consideration. And the application of their rights.

So I have to say as a lawmaker, as someone involved very deeply in regulation, I have that argument very, very frequently. And so the assertion of what a child is is the first and most primary principle that we have to uphold.

And I suppose just as a sort of addendum to that is that, actually, also children's rights should be operating on services, not just those that are directed at them for commercial reasons. But where they actually are. Wherever they are. It goes with the child. It doesn't sit with the fantasy of the adult world about where that child is.

I think the other thing is, you know, is, obviously, fundamental to the convention. And, therefore, to the General Comment. Which is regulation can't cherry pick. Again and again, I see the assertion that the freedom of expression is greater than the right to privacy. Or the right to privacy is the primary object. And, indeed, I'm sure that this will come up again, is, you know, the participation rights. The right to information. The right to protection from harmful material. All of these things are in balance. All of these things have to be considered.

And I have to say that the regulatory world finds it very, very difficult to remember all of a child's rights. And, in particular, their participation right. And we've seen just recently the proposal in Australia, for example, that the way we deal with online safety or data protection is to require parental consent up to the age of 16. Well, that's not sufficient. And that's not rights respecting.

So I think that the fact that you can't cherry pick is part of the complexity and part of the beauty of children's rights.

And third is really the idea of tackling risk rather than harm. I think we've been through a decade of arguing about what are the harms of the digital world. Some of them are really obvious and easy to see in terms of, you know, outcomes, you know, of over-access to pornography or grooming or CSEA. Or, you know, sort of addictive techniques and so on and so forth. There are lots of different harms. Actually, one of the principles of regulation is it should seek to go upstream. Safety by design is generally what we call it. Child‑centered design is my preferred term. The bottom line is regulation should see to take a level of risk.

I really want to be clear about this. The digital world like every other part of the world will not be 100% risk free. Nor shall it be. Some of the balancing rights mean children have to transgress and tour the world in ways that may ‑‑ they may trip up on. Let's put it that way. But that doesn't mean these aren't consumer‑facing products and services. And, actually, a car with no brakes is not fit for purpose. A supermarket with something poisonous on every other shelf has to close. You know, we have to see the General Comment in practice as a way of sort of putting product safety into the equation. Which is something that has been missing. And I think it does a really good job of explaining that and explaining the balancing factors in that.

I think the fourth thing is that is very clear and hugely important to me, personally, is we should not ask children to hold the responsibility for badly designed systems. So if you deliberately design endless scroll or auto-play or trending list or disappearing content or, you know, you got live streaming and have it on public so a child is suddenly talking to 5 million people around the world who can then direct message them. You know, these are fundamental design problems in the system. And so often I hear that actually what we have to make is children resilient or literate. Now, I would always argue for data literacy and for digital literacy and, indeed, for critical literacy. But it is not the responsibility of the child to sort of uphold a poorly designed system that has not been designed with them in mind and take the responsibility for that.

So I think that's another thing that is a sort of a perennial amongst regulators and lawmakers. They go, you know, they put children in the too‑difficult box and say I know what, we'll educate them a bit more. Actually, it's an asymmetric battle as we have it here.

And then finally, I just really want to make the point because, you know, so often I find myself talking in a Global North context. Actually, you know, there is another battle here, which is digital equity. What we hear again and again from children all over the world is they want access. They want it on a particular basis. I think safety must not be considered a separate component to digital equity and empowerment. You know, because without dealing with the ubiquitous risk and discrimination and difficulties of the online world, we're actually not allowing certain people to feel safe and able. And, indeed, you know, in certain places we see girls being pushed off because parents don't think it's safe. Et cetera. Et cetera.

So I think that child online safety is an essential part of equity and empowerment. But it must include the opportunity to have a stake in building and innovating our collective future.

So those are the principles. As basic as they seem, I have to say, I have just rushed to this meeting from parliament. And I had to make these arguments even today on behalf of children. So it is a perennial. And I think we do have to start with that. And the General Comment is really an articulation of these things. I'm also, like Philip, very proud of it.

I just want to really briefly mention a few things that have happened in the year. So we've had a number of, you know, major organisations, the World Health Organization, the Broadband Commission, the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children. UNESCO, UNICEF, ITU. Et cetera. Et cetera. All push forward and say this General Comment, this is absolutely marvelous work. It must be ‑‑ it's imperative for all of us to implement it. And we stand behind it. Many, many organisations at a very, very high level, for which we are very grateful.

But unless and until it finds its way into international agreements and national legislation and regulation and is unpicked by the various people who have the duties to amplify its requirements, it will not have the strength that those of us who worked on it and all the people. And, again, I want to back up what Philip said. That hundreds of people from all over the world and a thousand children who put into the General Comment, we have to see it in.

And I am really pleased with where we are, but I think we still have a long way to go. So the EU has cited the General Comment in their Child's Rights Strategy. That's a very important place. Because every time there's a new piece of regulation, it helps make the argument for it being then included in further EU regulation.

So, for example, we have seen, and 5Rights played a big part in this, that it is cited in the EUAI Act 28. That's hugely important when you're making judgments about automated system, that children's rights must apply.

We saw in the OECD recommendation on the children in the digital environment in the data privacy regulations. Again, when you look at the notes that go together with those recommendations, you start to see how the General Comment has articulated children's participation rights as well as their data protection rights. And, again, that balancing act has been hugely important.

It is going to be a recommendation of inclusion for the Online Safety Bill here in the UK, which is a really landmark piece of legislation that we're expecting to go through parliament next year. Currently, it's in there. And it is also on an amendment to the Digital Services Act in the EU.

And, again, the absolute, you know, the sort of framework nature of it in legislation means that when people start to ask the difficult questions, they are actually being directed and sign posted in ways that are really highly thought through and very respectful of children's views. And very respectful of the balancing of their rights. Because I think my fear is that without taking the General Comment in its entirety that we're going to see some very, very sort of blunt regulation that may have the effect of keeping children out of the digital world instead of designing the digital world for their presence.

And I think that maybe I will stop there. Because I know that there are other speakers. But I just really ‑‑ I really feel passionately that this is the first overarching framework that really says how children's rights apply in the digital world. And I think the more that it can be copied and spread and cited, the greater its impact will finally be. Thank you.

>> SONIA LIVINGSTONE: Thank you, Beeban. And I think it is absolutely inspiring to see how the General Comment is being taken up. There is so much work more to do. And we very much hope those at the IGF are going to kind of take this message.

As you said, one of the key messages that we wanted to kind of put into the drafting of the General Comment was while there were many things to be done, we don't want to responsiblize the child. We want to kind of call on all of those in the society who are responsible. And people often talk about states and business. We also very much want to kind of appeal to those. Who are already child rights advocates. NGOs working in the third sector. Who have sometimes felt technology is a bit difficult or too complex. So the General Comment is also written to reach out to them.

And I want to call on Gerison Lansdown to say some words about how those organisations and Civil Society child rights defenders might kind of work with the General Comment and really what you've seen, Gerison, of how other General Comments do become a kind of rallying cry for action and improvement, let's say. Over to you. Thank you. And you're muted. But you can ‑‑

>> GERISON LANSDOWN: Sorry. So Philip talked about the substance of the General Comment and Beeban talked about the principles. So I want to talk a bit more about process. And I think one of the great successes of the Convention on the Rights of the Child has been its capacity to inspire national networks of NGOs. Building coalitions to work collaboratively to monitor and advocate for implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Over the 30 years of the convention, there's been a lot of learning about how to do that effectively, what works, why it works. Because it's never enough. As Beeban has said, it's never enough to have the General Comment, itself, its recommendations and its guidance. It's a hugely important first step. But we now need to proactively advocate for those recommendations to be translated into concrete action, certainly at the national level as well as the international level.

And NGOs have a really important role to play in making that happen. They can play an important role in challenging and changing opinions, in promoting and reaching out to politicians to get political commitment for implementation. They can help translate the recommendations into concrete proposals for the national level.

They can make the issues much more visible. Very importantly, they can work collaboratively with children to enable children's voices to be brought to the table directly with politicians who are enacting legislation and policies. And in so doing, what that does is strengthen government accountability on ‑‑

>> SONIA LIVINGSTONE: Oh. Gerison has frozen, I believe. Never quite clear whether it's ‑‑ oh. Maybe she will reappear.

>> GERISON LANSDOWN: Can you hear me?

>> SONIA LIVINGSTONE: You disappeared briefly, but you're back. Yes.

>> GERISON LANSDOWN: Okay. Okay. Don't know what that was. So there are seven steps I wanted to point up to in relation to an effective advocacy strategy.

So the first thing is as Sonia and Beeban have suggested, the rights are indivisible. You can't protect one right without thinking about other rights. So you need to think in this ‑‑ but the text of the General Comment is very broad and it touches on a huge number of children's rights.

So one of the things you need to think about in undertaking advocacy is where is the entry point? Where do you want to enter into your advocacy strategy? Do you want to focus specifically to start with on privacy or on data collection? On education and digital rights in schools and access? And some of the ways you might think about where those priorities are are what's the severity of the problem in your country. What do children think? What's most important to children at this point in time? What are public attitudes? Where are the windows of opportunity? For example, is there a piece of legislation going through parliament that you could draft amendments, get amendments tabled to add to this? Are there particular issues coming up within the society or an election coming up where you can actually get politicians to really think about this strategically? And gain their support.

The second step is to think about where's the evidence base? Obviously, you need evidence that there's a problem that needs changing. Clearly, you've got the text of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, itself. And you've got the strong recommendations and guidance contained in the General Comment. And so those provide you a very good starting point of the evidence of what's needed.

But you also need children's perspectives as part of the evidence. You need ‑‑ maybe you need quantitative and qualitative evidence of the scale of the issue or concern. You might want to look at where the gaps are in the existing legislation. And its inadequacies and its failure to comply with the standards set out in the General Comment.

You might want evidence on the scale of the problem as it is expressed in a particular category. Maybe you want to undertake an investment in commissioning research or surveys in order to get further evidence of a problem. In order to strengthen your case for implementation.

And then the third step is to really frame the goals carefully. Governments never respond very effectively to just criticism. You have to think about very concretely what it is you want to achieve, why you want to achieve it and how can you achieve it.

Then a really important fourth step is the role of stakeholders. Who are the stakeholders? It's really valuable for NGOs to think really imaginatively about who can they bring on as allies to strengthen their case. Because different stakeholders will bring in different skills. They'll bring in different points of access and networks. Additional resources. Additional expertise. And I've raised the volume of the voice putting pressure on government to achieve change.

So different stakeholders. Obviously, children, I can't reiterate enough that they are a key partner in all of this. But parents' organisations. Policymakers. Academics. The media. Maybe even trade unions. Professional bodies working with children. Unions. Professional bodies of teachers. Of health professionals. Of lawyers. So on, so forth.

Then the fifth step is how to get your messages heard and who do you want to influence. So you need to formulate the message really carefully and think about where are the resistances and how you going to address those? So in the context of the digital environment, we know there are huge tensions, for example, between lobbies who are pressing for much greater commitment to privacy and freedom of expression. And that some of those will challenge any efforts to strengthen the protective environment of children. So think about who are the people who are going to be arguing against you. How do you frame your arguments with them? How do you engage with them in order to strengthen your position?

And then the sixth step is thinking about how are we going to take action to move this forward? Is the main problem to raise awareness? To lobby and negotiate with politicians? Build support? Organize conferences? Social mobilization. Strategic litigation. In countries where the Convention of the Rights of the Child is incorporated into domestic law, think about taking a case where the government is failing to act, or is actually violating children's rights in relation to the digital environment, to undertake the strategic litigation.

And there is an interesting development. I don't know if Philip would agree with me here. But at the International level, the Convention on the Rights of the Child has an optional protocol on the communications procedure. And recently, there were 16 children from 12 countries around the world who presented a climate‑related petition to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, wanting to ‑‑ arguing that the five states had failed to act to protect them from violation of civil rights in the context of the climate emergency. And so the committee considered this. Once they rejected the petition for ‑‑ I won't go into it, but for technical reasons, they did recognize that it was admissible for the children to bring a case concerning harm which was outside their own territory. And can, therefore, the state can, therefore, be held responsible for negative impacts of, in this case, carbon emissions on the rights of children inside and outside his territory.

I think it's interesting because there are some comparables, it seems to me, in the digital environment. Because the digital environment operates both inside and outside ‑‑ the territory with which the child is living. It seems to me, I don't know whether you'd agree, that there's a principle established there which could be reflected and utilized to the advantage of children. So thinking about taking a further claim to the committee in relation to the violation of rights in the digital environment might be something to be thinking about.

And then finally, in all of this, it's really important to monitor and evaluate. Going through strategies that are working, why it's not working, view and reflect and use those findings for strength and advocacy and go forward with renewed energy and achieve the goals we're all seeking to achieve. Thank you.

>> SONIA LIVINGSTONE: Brilliant. Thank you very much, Gerison. Yeah. There's definitely a call to action in this panel today. And I think just as we have given a lot of thought to how to kind of encourage and empower child rights activists and NGOs to get involved in managing the digital world, we have similarly given a fair amount of thought to how to encourage those thinking about Internet governance. And that's especially appropriate for this event. To get them to think or encourage them to think about questions of child rights. And I do see those as kind of two sets of advocates and activists in a way that, you know, there's so much to be gained by bringing them together.

And a lot of the General Comment is kind of written facing both ways. You know, we need to bring child rights into Internet governance. We need to bring questions of the digital world into debates about child rights. Not to be too binary about it.

I thought I might just make a few remarks now about some of the dilemmas of drafting. I'm an academic. I'm happy with dilemmas and knotty problems as some of my colleagues are better at thinking up solutions.

I think for those who are really focused on questions of Internet governance and regulation, it will be apparent that there was some kind of tensions and dilemmas in drafting this kind of, I think, brilliant 10,000‑word document. What is the challenge of future proofing it? Of trying to not write a document that be out of date in just a few months' time when the latest digital innovation comes in. That's why it's been so important for those presenting today to really kind of emphasize the principles and really be clear that whatever the particular innovation, we do need to focus on what those principles are.

I think another, and perhaps this is a kind of subtext of a lot of those talking about children's rights at the IGF, has been to kind of write against the vision, perhaps, myth, that somehow the Internet is the rightful place of adults and children are interlopers and something of a nuisance within that space. And really, so it is written to say children are here in the world. They are one in three of the world's Internet users. They absolutely have the same rights as everyone else to have their rights respected and protected in a digital world. And that formulation very much kind of recognizes the impossibility now of pulling apart digital and whatever. Knocking my table. Real world.

And that means that we have to give some thought, also, to the question of, you know, how ‑‑ what are the different ways in which children are engaged with the Internet? And sometimes people hear us as talking about children just as users. And we are talking about children as users of digital products and services. And networks. But we're also talking about children as impacted by the digital world in ways that matter. Perhaps, even if they never use it. Even if they don't have access. Even if they live in a country too poor to provide connectivity and access. They may still be impacted both by the wealthier world embracing the digital technologies and investing in it. And in the ways in which their lives are datafied and managed by digital processes of bureaucracy and commerce. Even if they, themselves, never get the tool in their hands.

So, you know, and then, perhaps, one more dilemma very much on the agenda I think in relation to the question of evolving capacities that Philip spoke about. We absolutely know that in the history of the world, society has treated children according to their evolving capacities. We've always treated babies differently from children. And toddlers differently from teenagers and so forth. The digital world struggles with that because it professes not to know who is a child.

And I think we have ‑‑ the General Comment has come out at this very interesting moment when it is kind of clear that digital providers know an awful lot about everyone who is using and impacted by their services. And it is kind of now time to use that knowledge to treat children according to their evolving capacities.

But no doubt, that is contentious. There are a lot of debates at the moment about age verification and age assurance. I think it has finally become apparent to those engaged in Internet governance that treat children as children also means to know who is a child and who is an adult much more generally. And there's no question this is raising some thorny issues of implementation around questions of privacy.

So we do, again, kind of have that sense of child versus adult rights and freedoms. And I would just reiterate that the General Comment is written very carefully not to create that kind of polarization. To find solutions. To find ways of kind of thinking and taking Internet governance forward in a way that can be child‑rights respecting. I think in that regard, we are also speaking with those who want the Internet to be human‑rights respecting. And to respect the rights of those with special needs and disabilities or those who are displaced persons and refugees. There's a lot of call on many different sides now for embedding ethics and values and human rights into questions of Internet governance.

So the General Comment kind of puts the rights of children, I think, in that larger enterprise as well as asserting, as Philip very powerfully said, that children are, you know, today's children are all there will be of the human race in 20 years' time. So let's get it right for them. 30, 40 years, perhaps. I don't want to be too ‑‑

There are other dilemmas that we had in the writing. There are some kind of interesting kind of nitty‑gritty ones about respecting children's rights. Children want Internet access to be a right, for example. And there was an interesting debate about kind of recognizing the Internet access is the mechanism, is the means by which children now access their rights. And in that sense, it is vital.

There is a bigger debate that I can weigh in on at the level of the UN about when and whether Internet access, itself, becomes a right. I think that will be a really critical question for the IGF.

I think, however, that we have all talked long enough. And I'm going to pass the floor now to those who have very patiently listened. And I can see that ‑‑ I'm told that there are more people listening on the live stream to this event. And sadly, I don't think there's a mechanism for them to put up their hand. But anyone is welcome to turn on their camera or say anything they would like.

And in the interim, I think Philip wants to ask a question. So you may.

>> PHILIP JAFFE: Thank you. And thanks for all your presentations. I just wanted to respond to what Gerison brought up with a very current piece of information. The link you made between climate activists and the digital world. Right this very second in Dublin, there's an exchange workshop on child human rights defenders in the digital world. And how they can teach Civil Society to better understand how to support them in the difficult world.

I don't know if you're following my drift, but it's the world upside down in a way, which is really exciting. So, yes, climate activists, child human rights defenders, the digital world, I think they're inextricably linked.

>> SONIA LIVINGSTONE: Thank you. Yes. Actually, that reminds me while I wait for someone to put up their hand that one of the other kind of tensions through the drafting process and all the discussions held around the General Comment is I think somebody already commented is that kind of ‑‑ the importance of recognizing children, themselves, as civic and political actors. As on occasion, human rights defenders. It's not a world of child protection versus kind of adult freedoms of expression. It is absolutely a world in which children's freedoms, expressions, and civic and political actions must have space to ‑‑ must have the opportunity to express themselves online as well as in other forum.

We have about ten minutes left of this session. Again, if I can ‑‑ everyone's very welcome to put on their cameras. Or weigh in on how the issues that we've been addressing might seem in different parts of the world or those that you've been attending. I'm hoping there are echoes of this conversation in other parts of the Internet Governance Forum. I know that Beeban Kidron had to go literally to another session that was kind of clashing with this one on how to take the General Comment forward into legislation.

Other thoughts? Maybe I can ask Gerison, Philip, about concluding observations, about the way the General Comment will be part on the Committee of the Rights of the Child's review of rights progress.

>> PHILIP JAFFE: Sure. Very briefly. Just so people understand, one of the ways the committee works is that we receive reports from every state party, states party, which ‑‑ and each one sort of summarized the progress that is made in the field of children's rights.

And then once we receive the reports and we assess with the help of Civil Society what is going on in a particular country, we have what is called a so‑called constructive dialogue with the state party. Where we exchange our views and we can make recommendations which find their way into concluding observations which is the committee's view of the roadmap that the country must accomplish until its next report.

So the challenge with every General Comment is how to maximize the recommendations in the field that the General Comment covers and tailor it to the specific needs and capacities of the given country.

Obviously, the recommendations on digital rights are not the same for Switzerland, which we reviewed recently. And I mentioned that I'm speaking to you from Switzerland. Then from other countries that don't come ‑‑ that are not as obscenely rich as a first‑world country. So‑called first‑world country.

So we try very hard to tailor some recommendations to every country in this field. It's a bit of a challenge. Because, and I'll just end with this. There are so many children's rights. And there are so many priorities to focus on. And our concluding observations also have to be written in a way that the states party does not feel overwhelmed by fantastic achievements that it must carry out.

So, again, but the effective recency of the General Comment really helps in terms of the concluding observations. And, obviously, along with anything that has to do with the climate crisis. Back to you, Sonia.

>> GERISON LANSDOWN: I can add a point to that.


>> GERISON LANSDOWN: Obviously, the observations are addressed specifically to the government, to the state party. And, but what happens when this examination takes place in Geneva in the dialogue between the committee members and the government on what they've been doing to implement it, prior to that, in many countries around the world there will be a coalition of NGOs who will have submitted what's called an alternative report to the committee. The government do their report then the NGOs, Human Rights Commissions, and others, submit a separate report which is much more critical about what's actually been going on. So they come together to do that report. Raising issues about the failure to comply with issues around children's rights in the digital environment.

Once the concluding observations have been produced, there's a next stage for the NGOs' work to begin. Although they're addressed to the government, it's really important that the NGOs working on children's rights in that country grab hold of that document and put it in detail and look at how can we advocate effectively to get these specific recommendations targeted at our government, how can we get them implemented?

So hereto, there's a very critical role for NGOs to be the voice, to raise awareness and not allow this document to just get filed away on a shelf and no further action taken. That they have to keep it alive. And generate the energy to make it happen.

>> SONIA LIVINGSTONE: Thank you. Call to action is loud and clear.

Well, I think if ‑‑ unless anyone wants to ask a question, I might now give everyone the chance for a quick cup of tea before the next session. We just have a couple of minutes. Daral Williams has been taking assiduous notes I know and is going to write a report on everything that was said and that will go into the IGF record. I say that with great pleasure. I've been coming to the IGF for so long that I can recall when people say children know they have no place here, children's rights, what are those? I think, actually, this organisation has been transformed over the last ten years to really kind of give space for discussions on children's rights in relation to the digital environment.

Thank you, Daral, thank you to Beeban in her absence. Thank you very much, Philip and Gerison and for those who have attended and watching on the live stream. Thank you very much, everybody. And we'll close here.