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 is not yet a party 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 that 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 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 is growing exponentially. 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 three distinctive paradigms put forward by the CRC, i.e. protection, empowerment and emancipation of children, 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. 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 protection against violence and abuse, 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.
Written exam (60%)