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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 voices and experiences need to be considered when drafting policies that govern the use of digital technology, 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 meet this need for evidence, UNICEF Office of Research - Innocenti coordinates and facilitates cross-national research on children’s internet use through our colleagues in UNICEF offices around the world. We coordinate two major evidence generation programmes:

- The Global Kids Online project and network was created in order to support evidence generation around children’s use of digital technology (access, activities, skills and risks) at a national level, using a standardized methodology that allows for cross-national comparisons. The project is conducted in partnership with the London School of Economics and Political Science and the EU Kids Online network, as well as many researchers and experts from different parts of the world. The Global Kids Online research toolkit is freely available at www.globalkidsonline.net. As of 2018, UNICEF country offices and academic partners have collected data from nearly 20,000 children and 12,000 parents in 17 countries across four continents, using the Global Kids Online methodology. Additional national projects are ongoing in 2019/2020.

- The Disrupting Harm project focuses on understanding when and how digital technology might facilitate sexual abuse and exploitation of children, online and offline. This is a large-scale data collection effort conducted together with ECPAT International and INTERPOL, funded by the Global Partnership to End Violence against Children. Together, we will assess the scale and nature of this problem in 14 countries in Eastern and Southern Africa and Southeast Asia, using multiple data sources to triangulate evidence. The purpose is to identify priority areas for interventions by governments and other organizations working to protect children from these crimes.

In addition to evidence generation, 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 support UNICEF country offices, regional offices and headquarters with carrying out other high-quality research in this field. Internally, we also house expertise related to children’s engagement with online games and contribute to discussions around excessive use of technology and the impact of technology on mental health.  

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 voices and experiences need to be considered when drafting policies that govern the use of digital technology, 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 meet this need for evidence, UNICEF Office of Research - Innocenti coordinates and facilitates cross-national research on children’s internet use through our colleagues in UNICEF offices around the world. We coordinate two major evidence generation programmes:

- The Global Kids Online project and network was created in order to support evidence generation around children’s use of digital technology (access, activities, skills and risks) at a national level, using a standardized methodology that allows for cross-national comparisons. The project is conducted in partnership with the London School of Economics and Political Science and the EU Kids Online network, as well as many researchers and experts from different parts of the world. The Global Kids Online research toolkit is freely available at www.globalkidsonline.net. As of 2018, UNICEF country offices and academic partners have collected data from nearly 20,000 children and 12,000 parents in 17 countries across four continents, using the Global Kids Online methodology. Additional national projects are ongoing in 2019/2020.

- The Disrupting Harm project focuses on understanding when and how digital technology might facilitate sexual abuse and exploitation of children, online and offline. This is a large-scale data collection effort conducted together with ECPAT International and INTERPOL, funded by the Global Partnership to End Violence against Children. Together, we will assess the scale and nature of this problem in 14 countries in Eastern and Southern Africa and Southeast Asia, using multiple data sources to triangulate evidence. The purpose is to identify priority areas for interventions by governments and other organizations working to protect children from these crimes.

In addition to evidence generation, 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 support UNICEF country offices, regional offices and headquarters with carrying out other high-quality research in this field. Internally, we also house expertise related to children’s engagement with online games and contribute to discussions around excessive use of technology and the impact of technology on mental health.  

LATEST PUBLICATIONS

2018 Results Report

Innocenti Publications

2019     21 Jun 2019
In 2018, significant gains were made in generating evidence to improve the lives of the most disadvantaged children, build organizational capacity to conduct and use quality, ethical research on children, and set a foundation as an important convening centre for expert consultation on next-generation ideas on children. 2018 marks the first year the UNICEF Office of Research - Innocenti is reporting on the progress of research under the new UNICEF Strategic Plan (2018-2021). This plan is the first to clearly delineate the role of research and evidence as one of the eight priority change strategies for children. This report therefore is an account of the first year of work to generate critical evidence to inform programmes, policies and advocacy for children and young people around the world

There is broad agreement that internet access is important for children and provides them with many opportunities. Yet crucial questions remain about what we hope children will do online and if the opportunities provided are translating into clear benefits. What do children actually need to be able to benefit from the opportunities that the internet brings? Is there a gap between expectations and reality? The answers to these questions matter to: Governments striving to provide connectivity for families in homes, schools and communities; parents and educators who must overcome problems of cost, risk, or lack of skill, so that children may benefit from online opportunities; child rights advocates and practitioners who call for resources to empower and protect children online; and children themselves, many of whom want to take advantage of online opportunities for personal benefit.

AUTHOR(S)

Sonia Livingstone; Daniel Kardefelt Winther; Petar Kanchev; Patricio Cabello; Magdalena Claro; Patrick Burton; Joanne Phyfer

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.

MORE PUBLICATIONS

Project team

Ramya Subrahmanian; Marium Hussein; Daniel Kardefelt Winther; Rogers Twesigye


Partner organizations

ECPAT International

EU Kids Online

INTERPOL

London School of Economics. Global Kids Online


Videos

Highlights from the Global Kids Online Network Meeting in Florence

Innocenti @ external events

Global Kids Online. Knowledge exchange and impact. Meeting report from 20–21 June 2017

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

Using research findings for policy-making

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?


What's new stories

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


Conferences & Meetings

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

Child Dignity in a digital world Congress at Vatican City