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Conference on digital rights

Child online rights and privacy in focus at major conference in Brussels

5 April 2017
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(5 April 2017) A major conference on digital rights in Brussels has attracted over 1,500 people from 500 organisations including members of government, NGOs, policy makers, development practitioners and researchers

The annual RightsCon summit in Brussels drew participants together for consultation on issues of technology and human rights with keynote speakers including Alexander de Croo, Deputy Prime Minister of Belgium and Frank La Rue, Assistant Director General of Communications and Information at UNESCO. 

Researchers from UNICEF Innocenti attended the conference and hosted a panel discussion on Child Rights Online: Privacy and Freedom of Expression alongside major contributors including the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy, Prof. Joseph Cannataci and representatives from NGOs and the private sector including the Lego Group, GSMA and Millicom among others.

UN Special Rapporteur for the Right to Privacy, Joseph Cannataci, presents at a UNICEF Innocenti hosted panel discussion on child online rights, privacy and freedom of expression at the RightsCon summit
“The conference comes at a crucial time when one in three children are internet users and more children are going online at younger ages,” said Jasmina Byrne, lead researcher on children and digital rights at UNICEF Innocenti and panel chair.

“This has major repercussions for child online rights and privacy. It was important for us that we took an evidence based approach to the issue.”

Mr Cannataci spoke about privacy and children’s rights as a complex web recognising that privacy is essential for the development of a child’s personality and autonomy and that the violation of the right to privacy might affect other human rights, including the right to freedom of expression and to hold opinions without interference.

“Children go between offline and online environments and shift between the two. The risks, both on-line and offline do not always relate to the child’s age but to the level of their maturity and the way they approach risks. We need a more sophisticated way of understanding risks that are not only based on age,” said Mr Cannataci adding that it was important to take into account the evolving capacities of the child when understanding issues surrounding child rights and privacy. 

Mario Viola de Azevedo Cunha, Senior Research Fellow at UNICEF Innocenti and panellist presented on sharenting and emphasised the need for parents to better protect children’s privacy online.

“Privacy is not only undermined by corporations and governments but also by parents and teachers,” he said.

“Privacy laws around the world and the processing of personal data online is based on parental consent. This has consequences in terms of privacy because they [parents] monitor what their children are doing online. They also can overexpose their children by oversharing images of children online. When you protect child privacy you help develop a child’s personality and protect other rights including freedom of expression and the right to the access of information.”

Also participating in the panel were representatives from UNICEF’s Child Rights and Business Unit working on child rights and business, Patrick Geary and Amaya Gorostiaga, who presented key findings from their newly published discussion paper on privacy, protection of personal information and reputation rights, which identifies key threats to children’s rights online and also provides recommendations for the ICT sector on responsibilities and opportunities to respond to privacy risks. The paper is the first in a series of discussion papers on children's rights and business in a digital world, which will also explore freedom of expression and right to information, access and digital literacy, advertising and marketing, and further topics of interest.

Panel discussions also revolved around the newly formed UN Human Rights Council Resolution on the right to privacy in the digital age which now takes into account the right of the child, referring expressly to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

“The new UN HRC Resolution that makes explicit reference to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and calls for special consideration to children is an opportunity to develop a more comprehensive international agenda on children’s privacy and data protection as critical safeguards of children’s rights both offline and online.” said Jasmina Byrne.

Find out more about UNICEF Innocenti's research on child internet use.

Related Articles

Global research partnership on child internet use expands

Global research partnership on child internet use expands

(14 February 2017) Important new findings from the Global Kids Online (GKO) research partnership for Bulgaria have recently been made public, while researchers in Chile have just finished nation-wide data collection and are preparing to launch their report in April. In parallel, two new GKO programmes have been initiated in Ghana and the Philippines, where the teams are currently preparing for nationally representative data collection utilizing the GKO research toolkit. Jasmina Byrne, child protection specialist at UNICEF Innocenti and one of the principal investigators on the project explained how evidence on child internet use could have positive policy implications. “Rigorous evidence on children’s internet use can help international and national policy makers develop balanced and informed policy choices that take account of both opportunities and risks. We are delighted to see more countries come on board with the research partnership.” The latest evidence produced by the GKO partnership is based on a national representative survey of 1,000 children in Bulgaria aged 9 to 17 years old and their parents. The findings reveal that children who are deeply exposed to internet use and have a high level of technical digital skill do not always use the full range of online opportunities, and they do not always respond proactively to upsetting online content. Children are accessing the internet on their own at ever younger ages, often unsupervised, raising important questions about the balance between online risks and opportunities and children’s online safety. Findings from Bulgaria show how the average age of first internet use has dropped to 8 years old over the past 6 years. More than 90 per cent use the internet daily and 80 per cent of these children spend at least one hour online per day.  “Today’s Bulgarian children are real digital natives. Most of them use internet and mobile communications almost all the time and often have digital skills superior to those of their parents,” said Georgi Apostolov, coordinator of the Bulgarian Safer Internet Centre which carried out the survey. “This is probably the main reason why parents seems to have reduced the supervision and mediation compared to 6 years ago. However, children start using internet at an earlier age, so they need more mediation in order to develop the necessary social and media skills that will allow them to benefit from the opportunities the internet provides.” Bulgaria becomes the latest country to join the Global Kids Online research partnership, a project that aims to build a global network of researchers and experts in order to generate and sustain cross national evidence on the opportunities and risks of child internet use. Pilot studies utilising the toolkit among children aged 9 – 17 were originally conducted in  Argentina, the  Philippines,  Serbia and  South Africa (an overview of key findings from the pilot study can be read here.) Since then, the project has expanded to countries including Montenegro, Ghana and Chile. The GKO pilot study released in late 2016 also found that on average 8 in 10 children accessed the internet via smartphones. More internet access comes with higher exposure to online risk and the safety of children online depends on their digital skills. Better skills also allow children to take more advantage of the opportunities that the internet affords them. A majority of children also report learning new skills online. Around 70 per cent of Bulgarian children report that they learn new things from the Internet every week and almost all of them (96 per cent) agree that the internet offers a lot of useful things for children their age. Half of all children use the internet for schoolwork and 45 per cent to look for news online. Child searches for health information are rare, even among older teenagers. In fact, children in Bulgaria use the internet most often for leisure and entertainment activities, such as watching videos (89 per cent), listening to music (86 per cent), and visiting social networking sites (73 per cent). Playing games and posting pictures and comments are also popular. While children in Bulgaria use the internet to create content rather rarely, they seem competent internet users. Most know how to save a photo they found online (86 per cent), find it easy to choose terms for their online searches (78 per cent), or how to install an app (77 per cent) and check mobile app prices (67 per cent). They are also able to access their information from various devices they use (70 per cent) and know how to change the privacy settings of their online profiles (73 per cent). The increased use of the internet, however, has created more exposure to risk, especially for older children. Over the past year, 15 per cent of children in Bulgaria have experienced something online that bothered or upset them compared to 9 per cent in 2010. About one third of all survey participants have seen online pornographic content, which was upsetting for almost half of these children. A third of the children have encountered online hate speech or seen violent online materials, including images and videos of murders and executions, which was exceptionally or very upsetting for nearly half of the children. Most children talk to family and friends when they experience something negative online but nearly one in 5 children do not speak to anybody. Parents and carers are the main source of support (70 per cent of children turn to them), followed by friends (36 per cent) and siblings (12 per cent). Teachers or other professionals are very rarely sought for support in such cases (respectively 4 and 1 per cent respectively). In addition, a significant number of children (18 per cent) do not talk to anybody and this proportion has increased considerably since 2010 (4 per cent). For more information, visit  www.globalkidsonline.net. Join the conversation on social media at #GlobalKidsOnline. 
Council of Europe Parliamentarians discuss measures against online child sexual abuse

Council of Europe Parliamentarians discuss measures against online child sexual abuse

(6 December 2016) UNICEF Innocenti has hosted a major meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) where combatting online child sexual abuse was a major topic of discussion.The meeting, held in Florence on 1 December, brought together the PACE Network of contact parliamentarians from up to 16 countries together with representatives of UNICEF Innocenti, INTERPOL, Middlesex University and ECPAT International, among others.Members adopted the Florence Declaration which underlined the need for sound legislative frameworks based on the Lanzarote Convention to protect children from new forms of sexual abuse in the digital environment. The Lanzarote Convention commits 42 signatory countries in Europe and beyond to criminalization of all forms of sexual offences against children, and specifies adoption of legislation to prevent sexual violence and prosecute perpetrators. New forms of online child sexual abuse addressed in the meeting included: live streaming, self-generated images by children, online grooming and virtual reality. The ‘dark web’ was also cited as a part of the internet increasingly being used to share child sexual content online. The Declaration also recognised the need to support victims of child sexual abuse. “Online, children can encounter abuse and exploitation from peers and adults alike. Exposure to harmful material and violation of privacy are ever present concerns,” said Gabriella Battaini-Dragoni, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe.“It is the responsibility of all of us to meet these challenges in a manner which is strategic, cooperative and has a firm grounding in human rights.”Cecile Diot, criminal intelligence officer at INTERPOL called for a multi-disciplinary approach to tackling the issue and told parliamentarians it was crucial for NGO’s, private companies and civil society to work ever more closely to overcome the problem. It was estimated 80 per cent of content on the so-called dark web was related to child sexual abuse, she said. ”Altogether we may have a chance to defeat this criminality. We need a network to defeat a network,” said Ms. Diot.  Talks also focused on supporting parents, families and caregivers in protecting and empowering children against sexual violence in the digital environment, a key part of the declaration adopted by MP's. “Parents are an example of how to behave and what to do. If we as parents are inseparable with digital devices, our kids will do the same,” said Sevinj Fataliyeva, a parliamentarian from Azerbaijan. Dutch legislator Johan Van Der Hout said efforts to tackle child sexual abuse online were primitive if children’s voices were not accounted for. He called for a child-centred approach to the issue. “We have to empower them [children] on the internet. We cannot take it away,” he said. The views were mirrored by criminologist and Middlesex University researcher Elena Martellozzo, who conducts research on how children feel when exposed to sexual content online. Ms. Martellozzo said children were being exposed to online sexual content at earlier ages and there is a need to better understand the impact. “We need to focus on empowering young children. We need to focus on what they can be exposed to so they can have a better online environment which is a wonderful environment,” she said. “Critically engage with them about the material they find online.”Researchers from UNICEF Innocenti also presented Global Kids Online as a model for improving evidence on children’s experiences online. The global Research Synthesis pilot study on child internet use conducted by UNICEF Innocenti and the London School of Economics explores the opportunities and risks of the internet for children. According to the study up to two thirds of children in some countries have seen sexual content online, while a minority had contact with unknown persons online. Despite potential risks, research showed that most children had met persons with some kind of prior connection to them, such as a fellow classmate or community member. Parents also reported low digital skills, complicating potential risks to children online.“The conversation of what children do online should be part of the general discussion with children. It backfires when trying to ban kids from using phones,” said Jasmina Byrne, child protection specialist at UNICEF Innocenti.“In order to combat sexual violence against children we need legal and policy measures above all.” 

Research Projects

Digital Engagement and Protection
Research Project

Digital Engagement and Protection

One in three internet users globally is a child. This proportion is likely to be even higher in the global South. Organizations working to advance children’s rights and promote well-being need to understand how to reduce the risk of harm children face online while maximizing their opportunities for learning, participation and creativity. Crucially, children’s perspectives and experiences need to be considered when drafting policies that govern the use of young people’s digital use, as well as when designing the technology itself. However, there is still insufficient evidence globally to enable policy and practice to act in children’s best interest.To bridge this evidence gap, UNICEF Office of Research - Innocenti coordinates and facilitates research on children’s use of digital technologies by developing research methodologies that can be implemented to generate national evidence. UNICEF Innocenti coordinates two multi-country evidence generation programmes, Global Kids Online and Disrupting Harm, which serve to generate evidence of the opportunities and risks that children from around the world may encounter in a digital age. In addition, UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti engages with stakeholders  to ensure that children’s perspectives are at centre of discourse and debates around internet governance and children’s internet use. We publish research on national and international internet-related policies affecting children and support UNICEF country offices, regional offices and headquarters in carrying out high-quality research and interventions. We  actively contribute to global discussions around online gaming, excessive internet use, digital technology and mental health, online violence and technology-facilitated sexual exploitation and abuse.


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Child online rights and privacy in focus at major conference in Brussels