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Child rights in the digital age

Child rights in the digital age

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.

COVID-19 & Children

Visit our COVID-19 & Children website for Research Agenda, Research Publications, Blogs, Think Pieces, Online Events, Good Reads and more

Short-term project

The importance of children's internet access during COVID-19
An analysis of new data from Global Kids Online and EU Kids Online on: children’s internet access, proportion of children accessing health information online, and extent to which they are able to verify the truth of online information

Long-term project

Children’s use of digital technology during COVID-19
Online surveys across eleven European countries will help understand: what digital engagement looks like during COVID-19; how it has changed; and what support children need to take advantage of the internet during lockdowns.

 

Publications

Encryption, Privacy and Children’s Right to Protection from Harm
Publication Publication

Encryption, Privacy and Children’s Right to Protection from Harm

This working paper provides a short overview of the challenges and opportunities related to child protection and the use of encryption technology. While it does not constitute the UNICEF organizational position on the topic, it is meant to inform UNICEF on the issue and to reach and engage professionals, including nonexperts, within and between the child rights and privacy rights sectors. This paper will provide an overview of the debate around encryption and its possible impact on children’s right to protection from harm. It also reflects on the pros and cons of some proposed solutions.
What is encryption and why does it matter for children?
Publication Publication

What is encryption and why does it matter for children?

Encryption encodes information so that it can only be read by certain people. ‘End-to-end’ is a robust form of encryption where only the users communicating can read the information. In other words, third parties – such as service providers – cannot decrypt the information. It matters for children because while it protects their data and right to privacy and freedom of expression, it also impedes efforts to monitor and remove child sexual abuse materials and to identify offenders attempting to exploit children online.
Digital Connectivity During COVID-19: Access to vital information for every child
Publication Publication

Digital Connectivity During COVID-19: Access to vital information for every child

Children’s digital access – or lack thereof – during the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly determined whether children can continue their education, seek information, stay in touch with friends and family, and enjoy digital entertainment. With over 1.5 billion children across 190 countries confined to their homes, active video games or dance videos may also be their best chance to exercise. The rationale for closing digital divides has never been starker or more urgent. During the COVID-19 pandemic, access to accurate health information is particularly important, especially for children living in resource-poor communities where access to health care and services may be limited. For these and other reasons, global efforts are under way to expand and support children’s digital access and engagement, both during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Journal Articles

Contextualising the link between adolescents’ use of digital technology and their mental health: a multi‐country study of time spent online and life satisfaction
Journal Article Journal Article

Contextualising the link between adolescents’ use of digital technology and their mental health: a multi‐country study of time spent online and life satisfaction

Evidence on whether the amount of time children spend online affects their mental health is mixed. There may be both benefits and risks. Yet, almost all published research on this topic is from high‐income countries. This paper presents new findings across four countries of varying wealth.We analyse data gathered through the Global Kids Online project from nationally representative samples of Internet‐using children aged 9 to 17 years in Bulgaria (n  = 1,000), Chile (n  = 1,000), Ghana (n  = 2,060) and the Philippines (n  = 1,873). Data was gathered on Internet usage on week and weekend days. Measures of absolute (comparable across countries) and relative (compared to other children within countries) time use were constructed. Mental health was measured by Cantril’s ladder (life satisfaction). The analysis also considers the relative explanatory power on variations in mental health of children’s relationships with family and friends. Analysis controlled for age, gender and family socioeconomic status.In Bulgaria and Chile, higher‐frequency Internet use is weakly associated with lower life satisfaction. In Ghana and the Philippines, no such pattern was observed. There was no evidence that the relationship between frequency of Internet use and life satisfaction differed by gender. In all four countries, the quality of children’s close relationships showed a much stronger relationship with their life satisfaction than did time spent on the Internet.Time spent on the Internet does not appear to be strongly linked to children’s life satisfaction, and results from one country should not be assumed to transfer to another. Improving the quality of children’s close relationships offers a more fruitful area for intervention than restricting their time online. Future research could consider a wider range of countries and links between the nature, rather than quantity, of Internet usage and mental health.
Children as Internet users: how can evidence better inform policy debate?
Journal Article Journal Article

Children as Internet users: how can evidence better inform policy debate?

As more and more researchers from all over the world are becoming interested in how children use the Internet and mobile technologies, global evidence of both the opportunities that the Internet brings, and their associated risks, is increasing. A new research initiative, Global Kids Online, contributes to this through provision of tools and guidelines to national researchers and comparative analysis of country-specific research findings. For the first time, rigorous and comparable evidence from lower and middle-income countries (South Africa, Serbia, the Philippines, Brazil and Argentina) is available on a range of topics: children’s civic engagement, participation and digital literacy, as well as risky behaviour and negative experiences. But to what extent do current Internet-related or broader child rights policies (regarding education and protection) correspond to this growing evidence base? What are the opportunities, through evidence use, for influencing new policy direction related to children and the Internet? Drawing on recent research and an associated policy review, this paper explores the link between the two and provides some suggestions for policy and questions for further discussion.

News & Commentary

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

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

(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 researchersThe 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.
Philippines conducting national survey of child internet use
Article Article

Philippines conducting national survey of child internet use

(11 September 2017) UNICEF Philippines, in collaboration with researchers at De La Salle University, is currently undertaking a national survey of child internet use based on the ‘Global Kids Online’ cross-national research toolkit methodology. The research follows a successful pilot study in 2016. A total of 144 field researchers are carrying out data collection across the country. In order to ensure young children's engagement, emphasis was placed on hiring young researchers with whom children would find it easier to establish rapport.In some cases, the fieldwork researchers have to undertake great efforts to reach secluded areas. For ensuring their safety, as well as to have a gender balance, there is a buddy-system in place in which one male and one female interviewer work and travel together. In terms of equipment, each team member received a waterproof bag for the tablet and printed surveys as back-up.[Read the Global Kids Online Research Synthesis, 2016]“We are trying to do fieldwork site visits and monitor the progress of the fieldwork and the work of the survey interviewers,” said Maria Margarita Ardivilla, of UNICEF Philippines. “This is important so that we can get an understanding of the perspective on the ground and help to address issues as they arise.”“This provided a space in which the field researchers and the members of the Research Board can process and talk about concerns from the field which proved to be an enriching experience for everyone involved. As some of the enumerators work under hard circumstances trying to reach hard to access places, seeing core members of the Research Board boosted their morale.” Researchers are taking a phased approach to the study: the preparatory phase (then undertaken with the University of the Philippines and the Philippines National Institutes of Health) included working on the research protocol and obtaining ethical approval; the second phase entailed conducting the pilot study in 2016; and the final third phase now includes conducting a nationally representative study with children aged 9-17 and their parents.Considering the sensitivity of some of the questions, particularly related to child sexual exploitation, all researchers received an extensive 4-day training prior to commencing the fieldwork. Training sessions were organized by the De La Salle University’s Social Research Development Centre where the research team, including UNICEF, Council for the Welfare of Children and Stairway Foundation, discussed and practiced utilization of standardized, accurate, sensitive and safe techniques for implementing the survey. The training programme included: 1) children’s rights and child safeguarding principles and protection protocols; 2) development and personality of children; 3) a participatory approach to reviewing the Global Kids Online toolkit, the tablet use and questionnaire application, including interview techniques; 4) discussion of key issues related to children’s internet use; 5) ethical considerations when conducting research with children; 6) role plays; and 7) a mock survey. UNICEF Philippines also required a Research Advisory Board to be created by the academic institution where members are from critical national agencies such as the Departments of Social Welfare and Development, Justice and Information and Communications Technology from government, NGOs, and sectoral representatives from the youth and LGBT organizations.A school girl takes a ‘selfie’ with her smartphone at St. Francis of Assisi School, while other students check their smartphones after classes in the Central Visayas city of Cebu, Philippines. The study aims to cover as many regions as possible, but some ongoing conflicts pose challenges for the team. The declaration of Martial Law in Mindanao initially raised concerns on whether social preparation and the actual survey would be affected, and whether the personal safety of the data collectors could be ensured. Having addressed the challenges, the fieldwork in Mindanao was able to commence but red flags remain in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). This is a fragile region with pockets of armed conflicts and the team is currently seeking dispensation from the Ethical Review Board of De La Salle University to allow the inclusion of the ARMM as a site for the study. During the time of writing, it was reported to UNICEF Philippines that the De La Salle University continued the field survey in Mindanao with facilitation where some of the randomly selected areas had a 100% response rate. Notably, in Metro Manila, children living in gated communities also proved hard to recruit, despite intensive social preparation.At present, 2,250 child respondents are identified to be surveyed. The quantitative survey will be followed by a qualitative workshop for results validation and to afford children the platform to express in more depth their experiences and thoughts about their opportunities and risks in the digital environment.The Global Kids Online survey in Philippines is made possible through the technical support of UNICEF Innocenti, London School of Economics, and the shared programmatic commitment on child online protection of UNICEF Philippines and Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.(The original version of this article was written by Maria Margarita Ardivilla of UNICEF Philippines and published on 17 August 2017 on www.globalkidsonline.net. It has been edited slightly for re-publication here.)
Going the extra mile to gather data on child internet use in the Philippines
Article Article

Going the extra mile to gather data on child internet use in the Philippines

UNICEF Philippines is currently undertaking a national survey of child internet use based on the ‘Global Kids Online’ cross-national research toolkit. In order to ensure young children's engagement, emphasis was placed on hiring young researchers with whom children would find it easier to establish rapport. In some cases, the fieldwork researchers have to undertake great efforts to reach secluded areas.

Events

Children Online During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Event Event

Children Online During the COVID-19 Pandemic

6 May 2020 - UNICEF Innocenti hosted its first Leading Minds Online event as part of a new series on Coronavirus and Children: What the Experts Say.
Inaugural UNICEF Innocenti Film Festival
Event Event

Inaugural UNICEF Innocenti Film Festival

27-29 October 2019 - Thirty two films from 28 countries were screened over three days, receiving enthusiastic reception from audiences. Apart from the diversity and quality of the film programme, a highlight of the festival was the panel discussions which featured dialogue between film directors and UNICEF child rights research experts.

Project team

Daniel Kardefelt Winther

UNICEF Innocenti

Marium Saeed

UNICEF Innocenti

Rogers Twesigye

UNICEF Innocenti

Partners

Videos

Conferences & Meetings

Child Dignity in a digital world Congress at Vatican City

Council of Europe meeting on online child sexual abuse

Researching Children’s Rights Globally in the Digital Age

Conference on digital rights

Global Researchers on Child Internet Use Gather at Innocenti

Tags

internet

Innocenti @ external events

South African Global Kids Online pilot study

Global Kids Online panel at WSIS Forum 2016

Blogs

Responding to screen time concerns: A children's rights approach

Zhang Haibo is taking children’s opinions about digital technology seriously

Challenges of parental responsibility in the digital age: a global perspective

Ethical considerations for research with children

The internet of opportunities: what children say

Evidence based policy making on child internet use in Latin America

Piloting a research toolkit on child internet use in rural South Africa

Why we need more research on children's use of the internet

Journal articles

Children as Internet users: how can evidence better inform policy debate?

Reports

Child Rights and Online Gaming: Opportunities & Challenges for Children and the Industry

What's new

Is there a ladder of children's online participation?

Global researchers on child internet use gather at Innocenti

‘Solutions Summit’ Highlights Need for Research to End Violence by 2030

Global Kids Online evidence spurs policy change in Argentina

Researchers and designers convene to create ‘designing for children’ guide

Philippines conducting national survey of child internet use

South Africa study on child internet use helps build global research partnership

External website

Global Kids Online