Why the iRights campaign is vital to promote the rights of children and young people

Earlier this year a campaign was launched to promote the idea that children should be able to delete their online past. Baroness Shields, the UK’s Minister for Internet Safety and Security, backed the move as did several charities and businesses.

Called iRights, the proposals included the right for young people to be able to edit or delete content they have created online. Crucially, however, along with supporting children’s “right to be forgotten”, iRights believes young people have a right to digital literacy. They should be confident online and be kept well informed about how their data can be used.

If you’ve not read the manifesto yet, the focus of iRights is:

  • The right to remove. Every child and young person should have the right to easily edit or delete all content they have created.
  • The right to know. They should have the right to know who is holding or profiting from their information, what their information is being used for and whether it is being copied, sold or traded.
  • The right for safety and support. Children and young people should be confident that they will be protected from illegal practices and supported if confronted by troubling or upsetting scenarios online.
  • The right to informed and conscious choices. They should be empowered to reach into creative places online, but at the same time have the capacity and support to easily disengage.
  • The right to digital literacy. They should have access to the knowledge that the internet can deliver. Children and young people need to be taught the skills to use, create and critique digital technologies, and given the tools to negotiate changing social norms.

On the iRights website there is also a downloadable document for children and young people to read. This is written with them in mind and is an excellent way to reach out to everyone at school and in the home.

As young people become more connected online, I wonder how we as professionals can ensure they remain protected, while maintaining their rights as individuals. It’s important to understand that while online safety is paramount, it’s also vital that we create a digitally literate generation. Our online world is here to stay, so it’s important for everyone to understand the benefits and how to deal with the drawbacks.

In the past, children were seldom mentioned when it came to discussions about rights. In fact, rights were generally assumed to be the sole attribute of rational adult males, until recently. The cliche that children should be seen and not heard was all too real. They were considered to be irrational and, in many cases, simply turfed out of home at a very young age.  It’s well to remember that in 1848, 30,000 children were estimated to be living as homeless beggars and vagrants in London alone.

I digress.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, however, sets out the human rights of every person under the age of 18. The Convention is an international human rights treaty that was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1989 and ratified by the UK in 1991. The Convention is a very important document because it recognises that all children have the right to be treated with dignity and fairness, to be protected, to develop to their full potential and to participate. It also lays out what countries must do to ensure that all children can enjoy their rights, regardless of who they are, or where they are from.

It’s clear that the cyber world is key to our children’s future development. When social media is used thoughtfully, it can provide opportunities for professional growth, enhanced home-school communication, and conversations that allow learning to continue beyond allotted class times.

Rights, therefore, should reflect children’s developing competence, offering them protection so long as they need it. This goes hand in hand with empowerment as they mature, with restrictions on their freedom and autonomy only where these can be justified in terms of maximising their future choices.

Voice Of The Child

Our  Voice Of The Child campaign ensures that children and young people are participating in an inclusive way to guarantee that their views are heard and valued in decision-making.  It makes use of technology that provides an experience of participation that is relevant, informed, voluntary, safe, respectful and transparent.    

For children and young people, knowing they have the right to be heard in decisions that affect them boosts their sense of security and self-confidence. This opens the way to developing and applying the skills, language and concepts that empowers them to claim their rights and to advocate for the rights of children everywhere.

One of the relevant articles of the Convention that addresses the principle of participation is article 12, the right to be heard. Article 12 says that every child has the right to express their views, feelings and wishes in all matters affecting them, and to have their views considered and taken seriously. This principle recognises children as actors in their own lives and applies at all times, throughout a child’s life. There is also a wider group of rights (or articles) that address the right of children to participate and which influence our understanding of participation, including a child’s right to seek and receive information, to express their own views and to associate with others.

A report by the Children’s Commissioner for England examining the rights will be published by the end of the year.

The iRights campaign provides a common framework for the principles by which digital technology should be designed, delivered and consumed. Embedding them into the DNA of the digital world depends on action by all parties: industry, government, parents, teachers and young people themselves. The iRights principles interweave to tackle the multiple issues of digital engagement. The internet and digital technologies need to be designed, delivered and consumed with the the young in mind. As a clear and joined up framework, iRights would, if implemented as standard, create a transparent and empowering digital world for children and young people.

There are risks, but when used properly the online world of digital, multimedia content, mobile apps and social media can be a great learning tool for children and young people. Moreover, it’s a way to enhance everyone’s lives and, importantly, the reputations of professionals involved in this learning process.