How to strengthen the protection of children’s rights in the digital environment?
Written by Anastasia Karagianni*
One year after the entry into force of the General Regulation on the Protection of the Personal Data of the European Union.
Some may argue that the adoption of the new regulation has contributed to the effective protection of children’s rights in the digital environment, as parental consent is required for the collection, storage, processing and dissemination of the children’s personal data in order to be able to take part in the information society.
On the other hand, others can argue that the Regulation has indeed laid some groundwork for child protection in the digital world.
However, the challenges are still many and the path for the effective enforcement and protection of the children’s rights in the digital world is long.
Firstly, one of the fundamental rights of the child, that is in need of protection in the digital environment is the right to take part in the decision and the right to be heard and to take into account the child’s opinion in the decision making process. Children, even though they are active on the Internet and in general in the digital environment, are not able to participate in the decision-making process. In other words, the child is not given the opportunity to express his / her views, desires and experiences before making the political decisions that will significantly affect his / her life.
For example, Eurochild organizes and manages an annual conference for children aged 11-16, which represents each EU Member State, and expresses its views on specific issues that are being raised.
Thus, children interact with each other, as well as with specialists and politicians who, while not taking part in the council, their opinions are taken into account in the decision making process.
Unicef also sets up meetings and seminars, in which children can participate and interact with each other as well as with Unicef specialists. The material resulting from these meetings is used by Unicef in the political decision-making process.
Exercising the right of participation does not necessarily mean securing a seat, a “chair”, at the political conference. On the contrary, it means strengthening the active role of the child in issues that concern him/her and, consequently, his/her digital social responsibility in the democratic society.
The participation of children in political decisions also determines the degree of participation efficiently. Policy makers have to consult children, and to be genuinely willing to interact with them and actually listen carefully to their opinions.
The parent or the custodian” has to listen “to the child’s social and psychological needs in order to train/educate him/her properly.
In this way, the establishment of a friendly and open culture for interaction with the children enhances the reduction of digital literacy. More specifically, digital literacy is not only the learning of technical knowledge, but also the proper use of these skills. The parent or parental carer/custodian should listen to the child’s social and psychological needs in order to train/educate him/her properly. For example, if a child uses a fitness or weight loss application that needs biometric data, they should inform the child about the risks of violating their personal data handled by this application. Digital literacy, therefore, is not just information but also useful information.
Many times, due to limited access to information and lack of technical equipment or limited access to the Internet, discriminatory behavior in the digital world, such as racist, xenophobic, homophobic and sexist events, appears.
For this reason, equal opportunities for access to digital literacy, the implementation of training/educating programs and the increase of resources for all children, for every minority group and vulnerability to access to the necessary tools and equipment contributes to the enhancement of the digital literacy.
However, it should be noted that adults, parents and parental carers also need to be trained and educated in order to familiarize themselves with the digital space and the challenges it poses.
Speaking of familiarity and parents, of course, we could refer to the role of parents and parental carers. In particular, it is important for parents to overcome the ideology of ‘protectionism’, over-reaction and one-dimensional decision-making, in essence protecting the best interests of the child, thus, leading to the fulfillment of their primary role as parents and parental carers.
Parents and guardians are called upon to meet the child’s physical, mental, spiritual and social needs by actually listening to his needs and desires.
Children have now grown up within the digital age. They are citizens of the internet and parents are also required to act under the parental care.
For this reason, parents and guardians should adapt to the digital environment, be aware of the dangers they face by asking for support from the state and civil society.
Parents and legal guardians should familiarize children with the concept of privacy and personal data from an early age and control their inexorable exposure to social media.
Of course, as long as the parents or guardians have to be attentive to the dangers of the internet, so careful they must be with their own digital behavior, for example with photos and children’s information they publish on social media and in general on the Internet. This also means that parents and parents should familiarize children with the concept of privacy and personal data from an early age and control their inexplicable exposure to social media. Only in this way can the child be protected in the digital environment.
To summarize, both the states and the private sector, marketing and advertising companies should consider children as rights holders, restrict manipulation and exploitation practices and violations of their privacy and rights.
On the other hand, children should be aware of and understand the regular and misleading forms of digital marketing in order to develop critical thinking and protect their rights as consumers.
Recognizing children as subjects of digital rights significantly determines the recognition and protection of their rights as digital workers, digital citizens, digital students, digital consumers, digital patients, digital librarians or defendants.
The regulation of an appropriate legal framework for children’s digital rights is essential for the holistic and effective protection of children’s rights.
* Anastasia Karayanni is a lawyer with a specialization in the digital rights of children. She is a member of Homo Digitalis and co-founder of ChildAct, which aims to protect children’s digital rights. On November 8, 2018 he represented Homo Digitalis at a meeting on “Facebook and other social risks”, which took place in the European Parliament.