Young people and parents everywhere should know that, where youth rights are concerned, Europe just took a big step backward. Even though every single one of the European Union’s 28 countries has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, whose Article 12 states that “children” (people under 18) have the right to express their views in all matters affecting them, a European agreement that greatly affects teens has been made entirely without their views or participation. It was reached even without the views of adult experts on child online rights or protection. Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which is expected to be ratified this month and become law in 2018, was unexpectedly, inexplicably modified in a closed-door meeting called a Trialogue to require anyone under 16 to get parental consent to use online services, SC Magazine reported, in effect moving the so-called social media minimum age up from 13 to 16 for European youth. [Sometimes referred to as “secret EU lawmaking,” Trialogues are private meetings of representatives of the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Council.]
“Children are consistently overlooked by internet governance decisions,” wrote EU Kids Online’s founding researcher and psychology professor Sonia Livingstone. Their intelligence, agency and capacity for leadership online as well as offline are too consistently overlooked too. “At best, they are treated as vulnerable individuals – not the independent rights-bearers of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child [UNCRC].” She cited the international Internet governance body Netmundial as stating that the “rights that people have offline must also be protected online.”
Right before the Trialogue’s decision, Dr. Livingstone had co-authored a paper on the subject. Its title, “One in Three: Internet Governance and Children’s Rights,” had spotlighted the fact that a third of the planet’s Internet users are under 18. The European Union has failed to seek the input of a significant portion of Internet users on one of Europe’s most important Net-related regulatory directives in decades.
“Children and young people have been ill-served … and I am afraid the [European] Commission must shoulder most of the blame,” wrote another of the paper’s co-authors, UK online child protection expert John Carr in a blog post about his investigation into how the GDPR’s surprise modification about teens came about. “More than anything, [Trialogues in general and the GDPR one last month in particular] show the world that children’s rights as internet users are not being treated with the respect or seriousness they deserve within or by the Commission as well as other key EU institutions.”