KEEP UP TO DATE

CONNECT  facebook youtube pinterest twitter soundcloud
search advanced search
Child rights in the digital age

As Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) rapidly penetrate all regions of the world, children’s experiences are increasingly informed by the use of these technologies. Global concern is coalescing around the need to understand how to reduce the risk of harm children face online while maximizing their opportunities for learning, participation and creativity. It is important that the ways young people use the internet are considered when online technologies, networks, services and policies are developed; however, there is still insufficient robust evidence from most middle and lower income countries on how internet use impacts children’s well-being and what risks and opportunities they encounter online.  

To meet this need for evidence, UNICEF Office of Research - Innocenti coordinates and facilitates cross-national research on children’s internet use in the global South.  The Global Kids Online network was created in order to develop a research toolkit and central coordination of resources and expertise to support national partners in generating and sustaining a rigorous evidence base. The project is conducted in partnership with the London School of Economics and Political Science and the EU Kids Online network, as well as in collaboration with a number of researchers and experts from different parts of the world. The purpose of the project is to enable researchers globally to gather evidence to understand how children’s rights are being enhanced or undermined in the digital age and to provide a base for cross-national comparisons. The Global Kids Online research toolkit and more information is available at www.globalkidsonline.net. As of 2017, UNICEF country offices and academic partners have collected data from nearly 10,000 children and 5,000 parents across four continents, supported by Global Kids Online methodology. Additional national projects are planned for 2018.

UNICEF Office of Research - Innocenti also contributes to internet governance debates and processes by publishing research related to national and international internet related policies affecting children. We provide expertise related to children’s engagement with the internet and online games, and contribute to discussions around excessive use of technology and the impact of technology on mental health. Increasingly, we also focus our attention on issues around children’s right to privacy online and on improving considerations for children’s rights in data protection regulation.

Child rights in the digital age

As Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) rapidly penetrate all regions of the world, children’s experiences are increasingly informed by the use of these technologies. Global concern is coalescing around the need to understand how to reduce the risk of harm children face online while maximizing their opportunities for learning, participation and creativity. It is important that the ways young people use the internet are considered when online technologies, networks, services and policies are developed; however, there is still insufficient robust evidence from most middle and lower income countries on how internet use impacts children’s well-being and what risks and opportunities they encounter online.  

To meet this need for evidence, UNICEF Office of Research - Innocenti coordinates and facilitates cross-national research on children’s internet use in the global South.  The Global Kids Online network was created in order to develop a research toolkit and central coordination of resources and expertise to support national partners in generating and sustaining a rigorous evidence base. The project is conducted in partnership with the London School of Economics and Political Science and the EU Kids Online network, as well as in collaboration with a number of researchers and experts from different parts of the world. The purpose of the project is to enable researchers globally to gather evidence to understand how children’s rights are being enhanced or undermined in the digital age and to provide a base for cross-national comparisons. The Global Kids Online research toolkit and more information is available at www.globalkidsonline.net. As of 2017, UNICEF country offices and academic partners have collected data from nearly 10,000 children and 5,000 parents across four continents, supported by Global Kids Online methodology. Additional national projects are planned for 2018.

UNICEF Office of Research - Innocenti also contributes to internet governance debates and processes by publishing research related to national and international internet related policies affecting children. We provide expertise related to children’s engagement with the internet and online games, and contribute to discussions around excessive use of technology and the impact of technology on mental health. Increasingly, we also focus our attention on issues around children’s right to privacy online and on improving considerations for children’s rights in data protection regulation.

LATEST PUBLICATIONS

We live in an information society, where the flow of information in the virtual environment is unprecedented. Web 2.0 platforms – and recently Web 3.0 platforms and the Internet of Things (IoT) – represent an important step forward in enhancing the lives of both adults and children everywhere, by combining greater efficiencies with a wide availability of new tools that can boost individual creativity and collective production. This new environment has exposed adults and children to fresh challenges that deserve special attention, especially those surrounding privacy. The main objective of this paper is to address the challenges posed to child privacy online and the impact that these challenges might have on other rights such as freedom of expression, access to information and public participation. To do this, the paper first analyses the current (and foreseen) threats to child privacy online and the various approaches adopted by government and/or the private sector to tackle this issue. The paper also examines whether children’s perspectives and needs are considered in international debates on technology regulation, including in regard to the so-called ‘right to be forgotten’. It then contextualizes the protection of privacy (and data protection) in relation to other fundamental rights in the online environment, arguing that in most cases this interaction is rather positive, with the enforcement of the right to privacy serving to protect other rights. The paper concludes by proposing some policy recommendations on how to better address the protection of children’s online privacy. These objectives are achieved through literature review and analysis of legal instruments.

AUTHOR(S)

Mario Viola de Azevedo Cunha
Based on an evidence-focused literature review, the first part of this paper examines existing knowledge on how the time children spend using digital technology impacts their well-being across three dimensions; mental/psychological, social and physical. The evidence reviewed here is largely inconclusive with respect to impact on children’s physical activity, but indicates that digital technology seems to be beneficial for children’s social relationships. In terms of impact on children’s mental well-being, the most robust studies suggest that the relationship is U-shaped, where no use and excessive use can have a small negative impact on mental well-being, while moderate use can have a small positive impact. In the second part of the paper, the hypothetical idea of addiction to technology is introduced and scrutinized. This is followed by an overview of the hypothetical idea that digital technology might re-wire or hijack children’s brains; an assumption that is challenged by recent neuroscience evidence. In conclusion, considerable methodological limitations exist across the spectrum of research on the impact of digital technology on child well-being, including the majority of the studies on time use reviewed here, and those studies concerned with clinical or brain impacts. This prompts reconsideration of how research in this area is conducted. Finally, recommendations for strengthening research practices are offered.

The international community has recognized the importance of internet access for development, economic growth and the realization of civil rights and is actively seeking ways to ensure universal internet access to all segments of society. Children should be an important part of this process, not only because they represent a substantial percentage of internet users but also because they play an important part in shaping the internet.

AUTHOR(S)

Jasmina Byrne; Daniel Kardefelt Winther; Sonia Livingstone; Mariya Stoilova
Research is invaluable for contextualising online experiences in relation to children’s and families’ lives and the wider cultural or national circumstances. The Global Kids Online project aims to connect evidence with the ongoing international dialogue regarding policy and practical solutions for children’s well-being and rights in the digital age, especially in countries where the internet is only recently reaching the mass market.

This paper argues that Internet governance bodies give little consideration to children’s rights, despite growing calls from international child rights organizations to address their rights in the digital age. Children have specific needs and rights and these are not met by current governance regimes for the Internet. As Internet use rises in developing countries, international Internet governance organizations face a key challenge in shaping the emerging models of best practice.

AUTHOR(S)

Sonia Livingstone; Jasmina Byrne; John Carr
This report explores the ways in which information and communication technologies (ICTs) can contribute to efforts towards meeting child-focused development goals. It serves as a key contribution on which to build informed dialogue and decision making, developed jointly between research, policy and practice.

COORDINATOR(S)

Patrizia Faustini

CO-AUTHOR(S)

Dorothea Kleine; Sammia Poveda; David Hollow
For some years, UNICEF has been researching children’s online risk and safety, promoting digital citizenship, and conducting both programmes for awareness-raising among children and for communication for development through the use of ICT.

A revised version of this report was published in the Journal of Children and Media

AUTHOR(S)

Sonia Livingstone; Monica Bulger
The Internet, mobile phones and other electronic media provide children and young people with levels of access to information, culture, communication and entertainment impossible to imagine just 20 years ago. With many of their extraordinary benefits, however, come hazards. Globally, children and young people tend to become early users and prime innovators on the Internet, and are often far ahead of their parents and other adults in terms of use, skills and understanding. It is becoming increasingly important to both empower and to protect children in this environment.

The Internet, mobile phones and other electronic media provide children and young people with levels of access to information, culture, communication and entertainment impossible to imagine just 20 years ago. With many of their extraordinary benefits, however, come hazards. Globally, children and young people tend to become early users and prime innovators on the Internet, and are often far ahead of their parents and other adults in terms of use, skills and understanding. It is becoming increasingly important to both empower and to protect children in this environment.

MORE PUBLICATIONS