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Rights-based research of children’s digital policies, the Uruguayan case and roadmaps to address its missing links

05.08.2021 (Updated: 23.10.2021) | Author: Soledad Magnone

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a. About the research

The article “Government digital policies and children’s rights in Uruguay: An assessment framed by the UN CRC’s dimensions of provision, protection and participation” by Soledad Magnone (2021) was recently published at the journal Global Studies of Childhood, thematic issue: South American childhood in the digital age. The study consisted of an analysis of government digital policies implemented in Uruguay between 2009 and 2019. Following the United Nations’ (UN) Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC), children were defined as individuals under the age of 18. To facilitate an overview of the policy landscape, the CRC’s pillars of (a) provision, (b) protection and (c) participation were used as a guiding framework.

The key features identified for each CRC principle were: (a) laptop and internet access, localised digital education resources; (b) online risks addressed, data protection regulation; and (c) child-centred digital policies. It is relevant to note that digital education was registered as a cross-cutting factor enabling all pillars. Findings revealed the government’s great achievements to (a) swiftly close digital divides in access to digital technologies and educational resources. Among the main limitations identified were (b) late consideration to child online safety based on minors’ responsibility; a data protection legislation modelled by the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) yet excluding special considerations of the latter in relation to minors; (c) children’s absence in the digital policies’ decision-making process; and an insufficient digital education acutely affecting vulnerable groups.

The article argues that Uruguay’s Digital Agenda should engage more comprehensively with the CRC by incorporating a child-centred and multi-stakeholder approach. This would include regulations, research and digital education to assure accountability and meaningful participation among various actors. To this end, it is nonetheless significant to formally implement critical digital education policies and practices for children and adults. This represents the promotion of knowledge, skills and values to critically understand the digital ecosystem and its implications at social, economic, political and environmental levels. It is a necessary condition for an inclusive digital citizenship to co-create a pathway in children’s best interest and, therefore, oriented towards a fairer digital future for all.

b. Research relevance

By 2015, one-third of internet users around the world were under the age of 18, almost half of which were living in the so-called ‘Global South’ (Livingstone, Carr & Byrne, 2015). In light of this, scholars from the field of children’s rights online have pinpointed the lack of engagement with UN CRC in internet governance discussions globally. Furthermore, they triggered debates by evidencing how dominant online protection efforts have overly placed responsibility on children and at times even hindered their right to privacy, freedom of expression and participation. In order to address these gaps it has been recommended to implement coordinated strategies guided by the CRC, the most widely ratified international treaty (Livingstone & Bulger, 2014; Livingstone & O’Neill, 2014; Third et al., 2019).

In relation to the above presented, the relevance of this study is based on its contribution as a first effort for an integral overview of Uruguay’s digital policy agenda in regards to children. Moreover, its importance hinges upon its opportunity for zooming into its strengths and limitations given Uruguay’s often privileged position at international digital development rankings. Examples of these are the International Telecommunications Union’s (ITU) Information and Communications Technology Development Index and the UN’s E-Government and E-Participation Indexes. Finally, it provides a novel contribution to the children’s rights online scholarship given that this study’s literature review identified an absence of digital policy analyses using the proposed rights-based framework in other countries.

c. Moving forward

Formally implementing critical digital education is key to achieve a digital roadmap for the common good. Notwithstanding, reviews of digital literacy frameworks from countries in different regions have showcased how these have been lagging and focused on skills for the labour and economy market (Law et al., 2018). Furthermore, ‘digital education’ has been posed a two-fold concept related to the teaching and learning with and about digital technologies (Bayne & Ross, 2011); however, the “understanding” dimension has remained mostly relegated to the neutral depictions of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) disciplines. In this way, education has largely neglected significant aspects for a broader construction of a digital ecosystem attuned to social and environmental justice (Buckingham, 2015; Emejulu & McGregor, 2016; Facer, 2011).

Protracting this scenario has rendered into what Zuboff deemed as a ‘division of learning’ (2019) that amplifies inequalities in our information society. This was connected to a sharpening polarisation in the labour market due to machine automation, depending upon a narrow tech sector prevailing financial capital and market shareholders’ interests. This can be especially pressing in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), where digital divides are cause and effect of the region’s stark social inequalities and increasing human rights violations. As the organisations Derechos Digitales and Access Now have reported, corporate-government content censorship, internet blackouts and digital surveillance have been registered in Venezuela, Cuba, Ecuador and Colombia.

By the end of 2020 JAAKLAC iniciativa (2021) was launched aiming to mitigate gaps in digital education and human rights online. The initiative aims to promote a broader participation of LAC, especially youth, in the construction of the digital ecosystem. To this end, JAAKLAC articulates collaborations among various stakeholders from the region to explore the possibilities of rights-based digital education and of prototypes for a child-centred digital policy governance. Some examples that have been supported by the Red Concausa, LACNIC, Tactical Tech, MozFest and RightsCon are:

  • Glocal Mesh LAC: webinars and educational resources co created with activists, youth, educators and CSO about how the internet works, its spaces for participation, relations with human rights and the opportunities of community networks.

  • Latinx Data Detox: webinars to co create with youth, educators and CSO digital campaigns on digital privacy, protection, wellbeing and misinformation by adapting Tactical Tech’s Data Detox Kit’s recommendations.

  • Digital Causes: webinars about children’s rights, it’s relation with the digital ecosystem and ways to enable minors’ participation. Coordinated with a youth group from LAC to introduce younger generations to the field of human rights online.

  • Children’s privacy and data protection policies: Let’s Do It Together!: Webinars and educational resources about children’s digital privacy and role play activities to prototype spaces for youth participation in the digital policy governance.

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