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Digital Child Rights

Vak
2015-2016

Course Description

In 1989, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) was adopted and has over the years
been endorsed by almost every country in the world – only the United States, Somalia and South
Sudan are still no parties to this treaty. Since then a lot of water has gone under the bridge and the
treaty has quickly gained significance in many ways. Even though, unfortunately, too many children
still live underprivileged or deplorable lives, child rights are recognized now more than ever and
children are increasingly given a voice in articulating their rights and freedoms. However, the Treaty is
also criticized for a number of reasons, including the fact the world has changed considerably since the
date of its adoption. Despite its relatively abstract wording that arguably stands the test of time,
demands for modernization of the Convention can be heard and a need for re-interpretation of rights
in light of novel developments rises. One of such domains in which the CRC, including one of the
Optional Protocols addressing children’s sexual exploitation and abuse, as yet has been deliberated
only very minimally is in the area of emerging and converging digital technologies. In Western
societies, children’s offline and online worlds are nowadays completely merged and all across the
world the relevance of digital technologies in children’s lives will exponentially grow in the near
future. Digital technologies provide children with ample opportunities for fun, hanging out, social
interaction, personal and cognitive development, et cetera; they can, however, also pose risks to them
and harm, particularly, vulnerable children. Child rights are specifically important in navigating
between two distinctive paradigms put forward by the CRC, i.e. protection of children on the one
hand and empowerment and active agency of children on the other, in order to adequately address
opportunities, risks, and harm. When it comes to evolving digital technologies there is a tendency
towards moral panics (or technopanics for that matter) and a culture of fear, e.g. in cases of
cyberharassment and online sexual abuse, which can result in overly restricting children’s freedoms.
At the same time, the CRC’s Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child
pornography requires governments to take legal action in order to adequately protect children online.
Moreover, ethical issues of online consumerism and online privacy come up that require an academic
and societal debate in light of child rights. More generally, it is important to determine how child
rights play out in the digital environment or an environment in which offline and online are
increasingly intertwined.
This course will take a multi-disciplinary perspective on the impact of digital technologies on the lives
of children, taking insights from sociology, psychology and communications science to understand the
changes technologies bring to children’s lives and how children deal with these changes, as well as to
reflect on how these changes impact on their fundamental rights as laid down in the CRC. Moreover,
this course will analyse how child rights pertain to the European Convention on Human Rights and
the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. It will provide students with an introduction into the CRC
and current debates on child rights to set the stage for a more in-depth analysis of child rights in light
of digital technologies. It will critically reflect on the role of various child rights, such as the right to
privacy and personal data protection, the right to information and freedom of expression, the right to
education and the right to personal development and play, in both protecting and empowering
children. Moreover, it will reflect on ways to involve children themselves in fleshing out digital child
rights in a more meaningful by taking account of their experiences and perceptions.

Course Requirement

Master Degree

Assessment Method

Written exam (60%)
Essay (40 %)
Pecha-kucha presentation (on the findings from the essay) (obligatory/mark: sufficient)