THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD IN THE DIGITAL ENVIRONMENT

Since the promulgation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989, the world has changed in many ways. More crucially, the world has gone digital, as have the children’s living and learning environments. African authorities and stakeholders need to combat the digital exclusion of all children. This includes providing free and safe access for children in dedicated public locations and investing in policies and programs that support all children’s affordable access to and knowledgeable use of digital technologies in schools, communities and at home. No child should be left behind – including children with disabilities, living on the streets or in remote and marginalised areas, and the millions in Africa orphaned.

Children must use the digital environment to afford crucial opportunities for their voices to be heard in matters that affect them. Digital technologies can help them realise the child’s participation locally, nationally, and internationally.

The digital environment can significantly enable and enhance children’s access to high-quality inclusive education, including reliable resources for formal, non-formal, informal, peer-to-peer, and self-directed learning. Digital technologies can also strengthen engagement between the teacher and student and among learners. Children should learn and enhance their use of languages within the digital spaces using tools designed in their mother tongue.

The digital environment promotes children’s rights which are essential for their well-being and development. Children of all ages report that they experience pleasure, interest, and relaxation through engaging with a wide range of digital products and services of their choice.

Opportunities provided by the digital environment play an increasingly crucial role in child development and may be vital for life, livelihood, and survival in crises. Risks relating to content, contact, and conduct are regarded as of a violent and sexual nature.

Privacy is also vital to children’s agency, dignity, and safety to exercise their rights. The digital environment's provision, design, and use must be guided by the ‘the best interests of every child’ principle.

Children must use the digital environment to afford crucial opportunities for their voices to be heard in matters that affect them.


This article highlights the significance of the International Day of the African Child, observed annually on June 16 since 1991. The theme for 2023 was "The Rights of the Child in the Digital Environment," which underscores the importance of safeguarding children's online rights and promoting their overall well-being in the digital age. The Organisation of African Unity initially established the day to honour the children who participated in the Soweto Uprising in South Africa on June 16, 1976. During the uprising, thousands of black schoolchildren protested against the poor quality of their education and demanded instruction in their own language. Today, the Day of the African Child is a celebration of the rights of African children.

Article submitted by Samson Mhizha

 

The Future Africa Research Leader Fellowship (FAR-LeaF) is a fellowship programme, focussed on developing transdisciplinary research and leadership skills, to address the complex, inter-linked challenges of health, well-being, and environmental risks in Africa.