BLOG: World Children’s Day – 20 November 2020

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Our commissioner, Emma Martins, has written this blog to mark World Children’s Day (20 November 2020) to ensure a focus on: children’s legal rights; ethical treatment of children; and how empowered children educate their communities.   

World Children’s Day is celebrated on 20 November each year. It commemorates the Declaration of the Rights of the Child by the UN Assembly on 20 November 1959. This declaration is an international document which promotes a broad range of child rights. On 20 November 1989 the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child, so 2020 is the convention’s 30th anniversary.

As with declarations and days of this nature, it is in many ways sad that society needs to be reminded of the importance of equal and inalienable rights for certain members of our global community (in this case: children). At the same time, we must embrace every opportunity we are presented with to ensure those who may not have the voice or power that others enjoy are heard and listened to.

The declaration sets out a number of articles which chime with human rights more generally (hardly surprising given the UN’s role in both). The scars inflicted by World War II prompted much reflection of the importance of individual rights and we owe it to ourselves and each other to remember the birthplace of many of the things in our lives which we now take for granted.

In addition to many other key rights, the declaration specifically includes the following:

  • Article 16 (right to privacy)
    Every child has the right to privacy. The law should protect the child’s private, family and home life, including protecting children from unlawful attacks that harm their reputation.
  • Article 17 (access to information from the media)
    Every child has the right to reliable information from a variety of sources, and governments should encourage the media to provide information that children can understand. Governments must help protect children from materials that could harm them.

Whilst these are only two of many articles contained in the declaration, they are relevant for the work we are doing here at this office.

We want to highlight importance of recognising that privacy and data protection rights apply as much to children as to adults. The younger generation are growing up as ‘digital natives’ meaning, for many of them, that almost every minutia of their existence is being documented in a way that no previous generation has experienced. This ‘datafication’ of their lives has consequences both for their present and their future. Some of these consequences will be obvious but others will be less so because they may not manifest themselves for many years to come.

Building fundamental rights into our society, recognising that in some cases we need to double down on efforts to ensure appropriate protection for individuals must be something we commit to and nurture.

The Law which we are tasked with regulating, the Data Protection (Bailiwick of Guernsey) Law, 2017, builds in additional safeguards for children. Where young people are asked to consent to their personal data being used, there is clearly a danger of that consent being given without full appreciation or understanding of the consequences or risks. That is not being patronising, it is simply being realistic. The complexity of data collection practices in this digital era are a challenge for adults, so it is entirely unfair to expect a child to read and understand complex legal terms and conditions and to engage with what that might mean to them in the future.

Ensuring our local regulated community have due regard for the age of the child whose data they are processing is a start. Organisations who are specifically targeting young people in respect of products or services need to act responsibly which means acting in accordance with the law as well as acting ethically. As a society we must not tolerate anything less.

Beyond that, we need also to ensure that children and their families and carers have access to relevant and useful information about data and their rights. In this way, we seek to engage and empower them as they grow up in this data driven era.

It is my firm view that digital literacy is now as essential to our young people as other, more ‘traditional’ skills are. So, we have now embarked on a schools outreach programme to do just that.

Our schools programme was developed by our outreach officer (a trained teacher) who worked with local teachers to develop a bespoke set of activities for key year groups linked to the Bailiwick’s ‘Big Picture Curriculum’. The programme engages children in games that explain key concepts under the Personal, Social, Health and Economic area of the curriculum such as:

  • Understanding what privacy is
  • Rules, rights, responsibilities and laws
  • Sharing data
  • Online presence and communication
  • Keeping personal information safe

Children and young people are powerful drivers of cultural change. We want our schools programme to harness that power to enhance our local population’s understanding, awareness, and appreciation of their rights under the local data protection law.

If children’s awareness of data protection is enhanced, everyone benefits:

  1. A well-informed young person is less likely to fall victim to harms that may arise from misuse of their personal data.
  2. A well-informed young person may share their new awareness with adults in their lives, so the message is spread wider.
  3. When these engaged and informed individuals enter the workforce their awareness, attitudes, and actions could serve to strengthen overall compliance.

This is not about segregating different sections of our community and treating them differently, this is about recognising that the precious rights enshrined in law apply equally to us all. For some, those rights are easy to navigate, for others; less so. Our job is to do all we can to educate, support and empower in ways that are relevant and appropriate for everybody.”

SEE ALSO: odpa.gg/schools