This past week, “the world celebrated the 20th anniversary of the
UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) – the most universally ratified human rights treaty,” the European Commission reports. It adds that “the Convention is the first international legally binding instrument establishing minimum standards for the protection and safeguarding of a full range of civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights of all children around the world.” As for children’s online rights, it says “significant progress has been made in the areas of cyber security and combating child pornography especially through the [EC's] Safer Internet programme” (see this).
At this month’s Family Online Safety Institute conference in Washington, British Member of Parliament Derek Wyatt spoke about a petition he has drafted with a number of children’s organizations which “calls on the United Nations to ‘examine and assess whether the Convention on the Rights of the Child fully addresses the needs and expectations of children in the digital age’.” The four types of online safety laid out in ConnectSafely.org’s “Online Safety 3.0″ suggest a framework for online children’s rights. They are the right to…
1. Physical Safety (freedom from physical harm)
2. Psychological Safety (freedom from online cruelty, harassment, and exposure to potentially disturbing material)
3. Reputational and Legal Safety (freedom from unwanted social, academic, professional, and legal consequences that could affect one for a lifetime)
4. Identity, Property, and Community Safety (freedom from theft of identity and property and attacks against one’s networks and online communities at local, national, and international levels).
What this Internet-safety taxonomy is really saying is that all the rights and freedoms the Convention calls for for children need to be transferred online. They must enjoy these rights in cyberspace as well as in the rest of their lives, simply because they make no real distinction between online and offline. According to Wyatt, “the Convention provides a framework of rights that children around the world should be entitled to, such as the right to life, identity and protection from exploitation.” Only five words need to be tacked onto the end of that sentence, really: “online as well as offline.” Or something to that effect.
Now maybe Barack, Michelle, Malia, and Sasha Obama will together help speed up the US’s ratification of this global treaty representing “a new vision of the child,” as UNICEF puts it in its FAQ on the Convention. As we hope Internet-safety education will come to do (respect youth agency, recognize young people as stakeholders in their own wellbeing online, and teach children their rights and responsibilities as citizens online and offline), the Convention “focuses on the whole child. Previously seen as negotiable, the child’s needs have become legally binding rights. No longer the passive recipient of benefits, the child has become the subject or holder of rights.” [As Amnesty International points out, "the Convention on the Rights of the Child is the most widely accepted human rights treaty – of all the United Nations member states, only the United States and the collapsed state of Somalia have not ratified it."]
Please feel free to weigh in (post in the ConnectSafely forum) and help spread the word!
[Thanks to Dave Miles at the London- and Washington-based Family Online Safety Institute for keeping me posted on work in the UK on children's rights online.]