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COFACE reflects on challenges of implementing child rights in the digital world

COFACE Families Europe was invited to speak at the 12th European Forum on the Rights of the Child which took place on 2 and 3 April 2019. Almost 300 participants, including a few children and young people, came to Brussels to discuss “where we are and where we want to go” on the rights of the child in the European Union. The 30th anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the 10th anniversary of the entry into force of the European Charter for Fundamental Rights, which constitute the basis for the EU legal acquis on the rights of the child were the starting point for the exchange of thoughts, good practices and ideas on how to enhance the protection and promotion of the rights of the child in the EU. The Forum also looked at three following topics, which will (continue to) be a priority for the Commission’s work, among others: 1) The protection of children in migration, 2) Children’s rights in the ever-changing digital world, and 3) Children and young people’s participation in the EU political and democratic life. COFACE was invited to speak in the workshop on child rights in the digital world, alongside Regina Jensdottir, Head of the Children’s rights division, Council of Europe. The objective of this workshop was to identify key challenges in relation to implementing children’s rights in the digital environment. Around 80 participants from different sectors: NGOs, International organisations, academia, Member States, ombudspersons.. took part.

We started by highlighting the challenges of digital parenting. Just like we help our children to tie their shoelaces, explore the city without getting hurt, families also need to be there to empower children in the digital world, from staying safe on social media, to harnessing technology for education and development, finding the games that help to develop their brains in positive ways, and enable them to have fun. But digital parenting is one component of COFACE’s overall strategy. In 2018 COFACE adopted core values and principles underlining COFACE Families Europe actions and activities in the realm of digitalisation. While the concrete topics covered by COFACE Families Europe are very wide and diverse, including digital parenting, child online safety, artificial intelligence, big data, online business models, decentralised technologies or blockchain technology, the recommendations and policy proposals formulated always rely on core principles and values, which are applied to any new development in the field of digitalisation. COFACE Families Europe’s aim is to ensure that digitalisation and new technological developments serve the general interest of all European citizens and families. Digital principle 5 focuses specifically on “Respecting human rights and children’s rights in the digital space”.

A few examples of UNCRC articles were used to illustrate the challenges in the online world, namely the following articles:

Art. 16: “No child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his or her honour and reputation.”
Article 17: “States Parties recognize the important function performed by the mass media and shall ensure that the child has access to information and material from a diversity of national and international sources, …”
Article 19: “States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, …”

COFACE actions to uphold the rights of children in the digital world, including digital citizenship education, preventing and addressing online bullying, harnessing technology for children with disabilities, ensuring EU legislation on digital files respect human rights and the general interest, inviting industry representatives to change their online business models and protect children’s data online, monitoring of emerging new technologies like augmented reality, connected toys, and much more.

See our 13 COFACE Digitalization Principles here.