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

Time
Tuesday, 7th December, 2021 (15:15 UTC) - Tuesday, 7th December, 2021 (16:15 UTC)
Room
Ballroom A

Organizer 1: Joanna Slattery, 5Rights Foundation
Organizer 2: Beeban Kidron, 5Rights Foundation
Organizer 3: Sonia Livingstone, Department of Media and Communications, Houghton Street, LSE, London
Organizer 4: Philip Jaffe, United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child

Speaker 1: Beeban Kidron, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 2: Sonia Livingstone, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 3: Philip Jaffe, Intergovernmental Organization, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Additional Speakers

Gerison Lansdown

Moderator

Beeban Kidron, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Online Moderator

Joanna Slattery, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Rapporteur

Philip Jaffe, Intergovernmental Organization, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Format

Round Table - Circle - 60 Min

Policy Question(s)

Digital policy and human rights frameworks: What is the relationship between digital policy and development and the established international frameworks for civil and political rights as set out in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and further interpretation of these in the online context provided by various resolutions of the Human Rights Council? How do policy makers and other stakeholders effectively connect these global instruments and interpretations to national contexts? What is the role of different local, national, regional and international stakeholders in achieving digital inclusion that meets the requirements of users in all communities?
Inclusion, rights and stakeholder roles and responsibilities: What are/should be the responsibilities of governments, businesses, the technical community, civil society, the academic and research sector and community-based actors with regard to digital inclusion and respect for human rights, and what is needed for them to fulfil these in an efficient and effective manner?

General Comment No. 25 on Children’s Rights in Relation to the Digital Environment makes official for the first time that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) applies equally to the virtual world. This authoritative document sets out the responsibilities of states and business, and for the first time offers a vision of what a digital world designed with children in mind will look like. This session will be of interest to states’ representatives, regulators and businesses as it gives the opportunity to engage with the lead authors of General Comment No. 25 on how they must and can meet its requirements.

SDGs

3. Good Health and Well-Being
4. Quality Education
5. Gender Equality
8. Decent Work and Economic Growth

Targets: The digital environment is absolutely necessary for the delivery of most of the SDG’s. The 5Rights Chair is a commissioner on the Broadband Commission for the SDG’s. In particular, General Comment No. 25 relates to the: • Wellbeing and safety of children • Delivery of education • Gender equality • Economic growth. It is an express requirement of General Comment No. 25 to make digital technologies affordable and accessible to all children, in order to deliver on the full gamut of their rights and in accordance with the SDG’s.

Description:

UNCRC General Comment No. 25, on Children’s Rights in Relation to the Digital Environment was adopted this year by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. The Convention on the Rights of the Child is the most ratified treaty in history. But in the 30 + years of its history it has been silent on the question of the digital environment. Upon publication the General Comment was promptly recognised by the OECD, the United Nations Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development Goals, ECPAT (the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children), the International Telecommunication Union, UNESCO, the WeProtect Global Alliance, World Childhood Foundation USA, the World Health Organization and the European Commission. This session will consider how to implement the obligations of states and business. In an interactive session the consultants who drafted General Comment No. 25 on behalf of the committee will engage with IGF delegates on the potential impact, desired outcomes and duties of the digital world to children.

Agenda: 

  • Introduction - Sonia Livingstone
  • Overview of General Comment No. 25 - Philip Jaffe
  • Principles of regulation - Beeban Kidron
  • Civil society input - Gerison Lansdown
  • Practical challenges of implementation - Sonia Livingstone
  • Q&A
Expected Outcomes

This is a very practical session that will focus on the real-world problems and solutions of states, regulators and business. It will guide delegates through the text, highlighting the guiding principles and practical challenges of regulation.

Online Participation

 

Usage of IGF Official Tool.

 

Key Takeaways (* deadline 2 hours after session)

Now the General Comment must find its way into national regulation and legislation, so regulators can insist its requirements are upheld. NGOs can play a central role in changing opinions, reaching out to politicians, consulting children and translating recommending into concrete proposals.

Call to Action (* deadline 2 hours after session)

For UNCRC: tailor recommendations to individual countries during review and dialogue. For States and regulators: translate those recommendation into law and regulation, and ensure compliance. For NGOs: look at specific recommendations, targeted at their government, and update their strategy to raise awareness and generate the energy to make sure it is implemented.

Session Report (* deadline Monday 20 December) - click on the ? symbol for instructions

Delivering Children’s Rights in the Digital World

General Comment No. 25 on Children’s Rights in Relation to the Digital Environment makes official for the first time that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) applies equally to the virtual world. This authoritative document sets out the responsibilities of states and business, and for the first time offers a vision of what a digital world designed with children in mind will look like.

Philip Jaffe

Children’s rights in the digital environment have been on the international agenda since at least 2021, and the call for the Committee on the Rights of the Child grew as a lack of regulation of the digital environment became clear.

General Comment 25 makes robust recommendations to the 196 State parties, on taking children into account and providing them with protection in the digital environment, covering their evolving capacities and applying to technology as it evolves (often at a pace that regulation struggles to match). Children, governments, civil society groups and other stakeholders were all consulted during the drafting. Some key concepts of the General Comment include:

  • Best interests – the child’s best interests should be a primary consideration in all actions regarding the provision, design, management and use of the digital environment
  • Access – children should not be unduly locked out of opportunities the digital world offers for education, play and socialising
  • Protection – the paramount concern of governments and stakeholders should be the protection of children
  • Evolving capacities – as children mature, their capacities, vulnerabilities and potential to exercise autonomy change

The digital environment should be viewed not only as an environment for adults in which children happen to be present, but as children’s environment in their own right.

Baroness Kidron

Five concepts repeatedly crop up in the regulatory arena that the General Comment articulates:

  1. A child is a child until they mature, not until the moment they receive a smartphone. The de facto age of online adulthood has been set at 13 for decades – the General Comment reiterates that all children (that is, anyone under the age of the 18) deserve protection – with consideration for their evolving capacities – and to have their rights, as expressed in the UNCRC, upheld on all services they are likely to access in practice.
  2. Regulators and services cannot cherry-pick which rights to upheld – rights to free expression go along with rights to privacy, participation etc.
  3. Regulation should seek to address risk in advance, rather than only responding to harm after it occurs. The online world cannot be entirely risk-free, but as with all consumer products, digital services and products must meet a level of safety before they come into contact with users, especially children.
  4. Children must not bear the responsibility for products which are risky by design. Digital and data literacy are important, but responsibility for a poorly designed system should not be placed on their shoulders.
  5. Children across the world, not just in the Global North, want digital equity: they want access, but they want it on a fair basis: safety, access and empowerment – and a say in building the digital world.

Now the General Comment must find its way into national regulation and legislation, so regulators can insist its requirements are upheld – for instance, the EU has cited the General Comment in its child rights strategy, so it can be pointed to in future regulation, including in the EU AI Act. The OECD has included it in its Recommendation on Children in the Digital Environment, articulating, as the General Comment does, a child’s right to participation as well as their data protection rights. Citing the General Comment will be recommended for inclusion in the UK’s landmark Online Safety Bill and the EU’s Digital Services Act.

Without it, in its entirety, there is a risk that services will respond by locking children out of the digital world, rather than designing it to meet their best interests.

Gerison Lansdown

The content of the General Comment is important, but to be truly effective it must be reflected in national law and regulations. NGOs can play a central role in changing opinions, reaching out to politicians, consulting children and translating recommending into concrete proposals. An effective advocacy strategy requires seven things:

  1. Rights are indivisible, but NGOs should consider their entry point to the conversation: what are the priorities, nationally and for children themselves? What are the opportunities in your national context?
  2. Where is the evidence base of a problem that needs solving? Including children’s perspectives, gaps in existing regulation.
  3. Frame your goals carefully and concretely, including how they can be achieved.
  4. Identify your stakeholders – including children, professional bodies, media – and potential allies, and the skills, networks and resources they can offer.
  5. Who are you looking to influence, what are the points of resistance and how they can be persuaded or countered?
  6. How will your campaign be run? For instance, strategic litigation where the Convention is incorporated into domestic law, conferences, social mobilisation.
  7. Monitor and evaluate your strategies, and use those findings to renew your campaigns.

Sonia Livingstone

One central challenge is future-proofing the General Comment when innovation occurs so rapidly, hence the importance of the principles underpinning it.

The General Comment counters the myth that the digital world is an adult space and children are interlopers, instead asserting that children have the same right to participate in the online world – not as a nuisance or in conflict with the freedoms of adults but as civic and political actors in their own right.

Children are impacted by the online world, even if they do not access it directly: their lives are datafied.

Evolving capacities: the digital world has struggled with this because providers often profess not to know which of their users are children.

Internet access is the mechanism by which children now exercise their rights, so a critical question to address: at what point does internet access itself become a right?

Call to action

For UNCRC: tailor recommendations to individual countries during review and dialogue.

For States and regulators: translate those recommendation into law and regulation, and ensure compliance.

For NGOs: look at specific recommendations, targeted at their government, and update their strategy to raise awareness and generate the energy to make sure it is implemented.