With ever younger users getting on the internet, more concerted protection for children from commercial and sexual exploitation on online platforms is surely required. Children are already the target of media content that shows the unboxing of attractive toys they cannot afford and exposed to the allure of fast food, fast fashion and harmful habits such as vaping. More egregiously, young people are also the target of sexual grooming in online platforms, and exposure to sexually explicit content. A conversation about children’s rights in the digital world is imperative, and urgently at that.
Encouragingly, children’s digital rights have been given explicit recognition. In February this year, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child adopted a General Comment on children’s rights in relation to the digital environment. Disseminated to governments worldwide, the Comment outlines how societies must honor children’s freedoms and rights to privacy, non-discrimination, protection, education and play in the digital environment. It also explains how states are obliged to ensure that businesses and organizations whose activities significantly affect children fulfill their responsibilities to children’s rights.
In the face of growing digitalization, this authoritative document provides useful guidance and indicates what more to do expressly to protect children’s interests, especially in the areas of privacy and data protection. Societies must take more active steps towards ensuring that children’s personal data is processed fairly, lawfully, accurately and securely, for specific purposes and with the free, explicit, informed and unambiguous consent of children and their parents.
One key issue is that the terms and conditions of digital products and services are couched in obtuse language that adults cannot understand, let alone children. Products such as the Dali lamp may proffer a slew of benefits, but parents may not realize that they extract a great deal of children’s personal and private data in exchange.
As more concrete measures are taken to protect children’s digital rights, parents can already choose to be more circumspect, and deliberate carefully before buying into the promises of corporations keen to prey on their insecurities. In a digitalizing world fraught with uncertainty, it is important to ensure that the path ahead for children is not just well lit but enlightened, too.