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Children’s rights online – ‘Spotlight’

We know that the internet plays a very important part in the lives of children in Ireland today.

For example, we know from a 2015 report called ‘Net Children Go Mobile’ that:

  • The home is where most children use the internet: over 60% of children reported that they use the internet several times a day or at least once a day at home, with 46% of children accessing the internet from their own bedroom.
  • Only 7% of 9-16 year olds reported using the internet in school on a daily basis.
  • 9 in 10 of all 15-16 year olds in Ireland have a profile on a social networking site, for example Facebook and Twitter. Over one third of all 9-16 year olds (36%) have a profile on a media sharing platform, for example Instagram and YouTube.
  • A quarter of 13-14 year olds and 37% of 15-16 year olds said that they have experienced something online that bothered them or they wished they hadn’t seen.

This is why we have made a commitment in our Strategic Plan 2016-2018 to work with others to encourage and support safe and effective participation in social and digital media by children and young people.

Children’s rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child apply online as well as offline, including:

  • Children’s right to be treated equally and fairly (Article 2),
  • Children’s right to have their ‘best interests’ taken into consideration (Article 3),
  • Children’s right to reach their full potential and to develop their talents and abilities, including through education (Articles 6, 28 and 29),
  • Children’s right to be involved in decisions that are made about them and to express themselves freely (Article 12),
  • Children’s right to share information and ideas unless it harms or offends other people (Article 13),
  • Children’s right to choose their own religion and beliefs, and to join or set up groups, as long as it isn’t harmful to others (Article 15),
  • Children’s right to privacy (Article 16),
  • Children’s right to get information that is important for their well-being, and to be protected from harmful information (Article 17),
  • Children’s right to feel safe and cared for, and to be protected from violence (Articles 19, 34 and 36)
  • Children’s right to access health services (Article 24), and
  • Children’s right to play and to take part in cultural life and the arts (Article 31).

General Scheme of the Data Protection Bill 2017

The Government is currently working on draft legislation in the area of data protection. Many of the proposals affect the rights of children and young people when they are using online services, for example social media.

One particular area that the Government is looking at is at what age children should be able to sign up for online services without needing permission from their parents/guardians (known as the ‘age of digital consent’).

The Ombudsman for Children’s Office has recommended to the Government that the age of digital consent in Ireland should be 13 and that the legislation should fully recognise children as ‘rights-holders’ and set out the special protections they will be given as users of online services.

You can find our full submission here.

The Ombudsman for Children recently welcomed the decision by Government to set the digital age of consent at 13, in line with our recommendation. You can see our press release about the digital age of consent here.

We will continue to monitor legislative developments to make sure that the Government adopts an approach that fully respects children’s rights.

Useful links and resources

What we’re doing

OCO digital media project

In 2017, we commissioned a research project focused on how social and digital media can be appropriately used to progress children’s right to be heard and to have their views taken into account by public bodies when they are developing, implementing and reviewing laws, policies and public services. This research will look at the possible barriers to using social and digital media to promote children’s rights in this way, as well as examples of good practice. Recommendations for next steps will also be developed, based on the findings of the research.