Children’s Rights in the Digital Environment

United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)
United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)
Publication Year:
  • SDG 9 - Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

On 14 October 2020, the EU Delegation to the UN and the Permanent Mission of Uruguay to the UN, in collaboration with UNICEF, hosted a forward-looking side event panel discussion in the margins of the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Children. The panel discussion followed the 12 October Interactive Dialogue, where UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Charlotte Petri Gornitzka presented the Report on the Status of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (attached) and other child rights reports at the Third Committee.

The panel focused on children’s rights in the digital environment.

This topic is particularly relevant today with the global COVID-19 pandemic that has resulted in millions of children increasingly relying on online tools, systems and platforms in multiple ways important to their lives. These range from the infrastructural — facilitating education, healthcare, and food reaching plates — to the social – children connecting to learn, to play, and to stay in touch with their family and friends. This increased reliance also continues to expose children to the risk of violence, exploitation and abuse (including sexual exploitation and abuse) and has made explicit the existing ‘digital divide’ and deep-seated and systemic inequalities.

This topic was prominently reflected in the Secretary-General's report on the Rights of the Child and will be the focus of the upcoming General Comment 25 of the Committee on the Rights of the Child.

The event was moderated by Mr. Andrew Morley, President and CEO of World Vision International and attracted over 80 participants from Member States, Civil Society Organizations, UNICEF and other UN entities.

In their opening statements both the EU and Uruguay representatives noted that the biennalisation of the GA resolution on the promotion and protection of the rights of children does not mean that it should disappear from our radar screen, and that on the contrary it is  crucial to maintain the space for child rights, including through this type of events.

The panelists touched on a range of opportunities and risks for child rights as induced by the digital environment.

Mr. Manus de Barra, Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children focused his intervention on the protection of children online and the need for an inclusive and empowering digital agenda for children.

Ms. Amal Aldoseri, Vice-Chair, Committee on the Rights of the Child gave an overview of the upcoming General Comment on children’s rights in the digital environment that the Committee on the Rights of the Child is currently preparing.

Mr. Robert Jenkins, UNICEF Associate Director, Education spoke about the opportunities to advance quality learning and education through the use of digital technologies and platforms but also the inherent inequalities in terms of access to tools, technologies, and learning support.

Mr. Ahmed Mihaimeed, Project manager of Digital Village, SOS Children’s Village International shared the experience of Digital Village which helps provide access to technology for vulnerable children and their caregivers in order to bridge the digital divide as well as support to ensure that their online safety remains a priority.

Mr. Kenneth Brent Villa, Trust & Safety Counsel in Adobe, and President of the Technology Coalition; and Ms. Alicia Blum-Ross, Public Policy Lead, Kids and Families in Google, and Research Chair of the Technology Coalition shared their perspectives on the role of the private sector in regard to the promotion and protection of child rights in the digital space with a particular focus on initiatives in place to fight sexual exploitation and abuse online.

The main takeaways of the discussion included:

  • We need to build a safe, secure, inclusive digital environment for all children that is also human rights compliant.
  • Internet was not created for children but has become an essential tool for their development.
  • Member States have a primary role to play in promoting and protecting child rights online.
  • The rights of the child in the digital environment are the same as in real life but to be able to guarantee them we need a deep understanding of the complexities brought in by the digital world.
  • Technology and digital tools can help children reach their potential, but safe digital spaces for children are needed. This requires governments, private sector, and civil society working together. Supporting children’s rights online is truly a partnership effort.
  • We need to put the participation of children in the heart of any process that we get engaged in.
  • ‘There is no one country or stakeholder that can ensure child safety online by itself; and there is not one specific way that we should follow”. It is important though that we systematically bring in a multi-stakeholder approach and use a child-rights framework. 

The discussion was followed by a rich Q and A session. For more information, you can find in this detailed note attached, the summary of all the interventions and of the Q and A session as well as a link to the recordings of the webinar.


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