The UN Makes Strides on Children’s Digital Rights
In March 2021, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child adopted a long-awaited general comment on children’s rights in the digital environment, marking an important step forward for protecting children online.
The landmark guidelines set out in detail how to protect and promote children’s rights to, among others, privacy, education, freedom of expression and non-discrimination in digital contexts.
The landmark guidelines set out in detail how to protect and promote children’s rights to, among others, privacy, education, freedom of expression and non-discrimination in digital contexts
Activists for children’s digital rights have called attention to many areas of serious concern in recent years: from the misuse of children’s sensitive personal data and the rollout of biometric data processing in schools to the widespread use of non-secure educational technologies, particularly prevalent after the societal shift to online learning due to the pandemic.
The general comment urges states to make children’s digital rights a priority, and outlines ways they can make this a reality.
Rather than focusing solely on the potential harms children face online, the document highlights the many opportunities that online environments create, as well as the necessity to bridge digital divides. It urges states to ensure that children have equal and effective access to digital environments, and to take an active role in overcoming digital exclusion. Non-discrimination is central to the general comment, with the possibilities for biases as a result of automation and unfair data collection acknowledged as real and potential hazards.
Non-discrimination is central to the general comment, with the possibilities for biases as a result of automation and unfair data collection acknowledged as real and potential hazards
The document highlights the importance of participation for children not just in the use of technologies, but in their design and development, as well as in the formulating and enforcement of the laws that regulate them. The committee itself led by example, taking a participatory approach in the drafting process by consulting over 700 children from 28 countries.
While the document sets a promising precedent for protecting children’s digital rights, its adoption is merely the beginning. Time will tell the extent to which states will implement the sound advice within.