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Published 03.06.24

Children's rights and digital policy

Jutta Croll, SDC, SDC

Looking back at the last week in May, we can see that children's rights have now also made it onto the programme of the most important digital policy conferences at national and international level.

The re:publica took place in Berlin from 27 to 29 May. Thousands of people from all over the world gathered at the event location ”Station”, while young people between the ages of 13 and 25 were invited to take part in TINCON. In 2024, both events once again lived up to their claim of combining a thematically diverse and high-level programme with the colourful flair of a festival. ‘Anyone interested in a digital future worth living will meet at re:publica,’ explains Andreas Gebhardt, founder and Managing Director of re:publica GmbH, who is delighted that 30,000 people attended the 18th edition of the event, which was sold out for the first time.

The programme, which comprised more than 880 sessions with 1,600 speakers and performers from 60 countries, reflected a broad spectrum of digital policy topics and other aspects such as crises and wars in Europe, social upheavals and the upcoming European elections, sustainability, gender equality and social entrepreneurship. Even though the topic of digital youth culture was located at the Teen Internet Conference TINCON, aspects related to children and young people played a role at re:publica. Sara Flieder kicked things off on Monday evening with the session ‘I know everything about your child’-Why momfluencing jeopardises children's rights’. The young mother, who quickly gained over 50,000 supporters in 2023 for her petition to protect children's rights online, explained how children's rights are regularly disregarded and violated in sharenting, kid- and mumfluencing. She is calling for legal regulation and has already gained attention, at least among the state media authorities, as a discussion at watchdog #24 on 13 May in Hanover showed.

Following on from the EU Commission's draft regulation on preventing and combating child sexual abuse online, which is currently being discussed in parliamentary proceedings, the session ‘Chat control’ - Same same, but different, but still the same? with Thuy Nga Trinh and Alvar Freude critically discussed analysis tools voluntarily used by platform operators. Under the guise of youth protection, they argued, users' communications are being analysed on a massive scale and without any legal basis.

Tim Pfeilschifter called for more regulation of the games industry on Wednesday in the session Lootbox? No, thank you! Gaming is better without hidden gambling. Loot boxes can now be found in a large number of (supposedly free) games. They tempt players to spend money (from small amounts to substantial sums). In 2023, around 20 billion US dollars were generated in this way. Loot boxes are not subject to the gambling ban in Germany. This is due to the fact that it is not possible to win or earn money with a loot box. Nevertheless, there are a number of platforms on which the features or accessories acquired or won via loot boxes can be sold and thus monetised. In Germany, the Entertainment Software Self-Regulation Body (USK) has reacted as a result of the amendment to the Youth Protection Act, which came into force in 2021, and includes loot boxes in the age rating of games. There are no clear legal regulations banning loot boxes in Germany to date, but these would be necessary, according to Pfeilschifter.

ITU/D.Woldu

Parallel to re:publica, the global web community gathered at the World Summit of Information Society (WSIS) in Geneva from 27 to 31 May to reflect on the progress made in digital policy 20 years after the first summit, which took place in Geneva in 2003 and Tunis in 2005, and to take a look into the future. The Sustainable Development Goals and the United Nations Global Digital Compact, which is currently being negotiated, formed the framework for the programme. Inclusion, gender equality and digital well-being were also addressed, as were artificial intelligence, education and training for the acquisition of media skills, combating the shortage of skilled labour force and economic damage caused by misinformation. The participants also addressed human rights and the rights and protection of children and young people. The session Children and Youth as Stakeholders in the Metaverse discussed the competences and skills that young people will need in order to navigate safely and responsibly in future virtual environments. The focus was on participation and well-being as well as protecting children from assaults such as cyberbullying and sexual violence. The study ‘Why Children are Unsafe in Cyberspace’, which was conducted by the Boston Consulting Group in 24 countries in 2021, was presented and the need for action resulting from the potential risk was highlighted. According to the participants, the aim is to protect children's rights and not to exclude young people, but to empower them to deal with potential dangers and crises and to grow from them.

The debates initiated in Berlin and Geneva will be continued at regional platforms such as the European Dialogue on Internet Governance - EuroDIG from 17 to 19 June in Vilnius (Lithuania) and the global Internet Governance Forum from 15 to 19 December 2024 in Riyadh (Saudi Arabia).