UP Centre for Human Rights webinar spotlights children’s rights to privacy on the internet

Posted on August 05, 2021

The University of Pretoria’s (UP) Centre for Human Rights (CHR) recently hosted a webinar that focused on children’s rights to privacy in the digital sphere in Africa.

The webinar – which was moderated by Dr Elvis Fokala, manager of the CHR’s Children’s Rights Unit, and Hlengiwe Dube, manager of the Expression, Information and Digital Rights Unit – brought together some of the leading minds in children’s rights and the law from across the African continent, all of whom discussed how failing to adhere to these rights affect children.

Dr Nkatha Murungi, Assistant Director at the CHR, opened the conversation by mentioning that with recent global technological changes, it is necessary to explore the manner in which we communicate and how that affects children. “I don’t need to say much about how much the recent developments in digital technology have shaped and continue to shape the human rights discourse, not just in Africa, but beyond. This shows just how timely this conversation is,” Dr Murungi said.

Professor Julia Sloth-Nielsen, a law professor from University of the Western Cape (UWC), presented an overview of the laws relating to children’s rights to privacy and data protection in the digital sphere, based on a report commissioned by the CHR.

Some of the primary considerations of the report were that at the moment, smartphone penetration stands at far below 50% of the total population of most African countries. By March 2020, internet penetration stood at 39.3% of the total population, unlike in 62.9% in the rest of the world.

The report also explored the idea of privacy as a right, and what protecting this right would mean for children. Also explored in the country reports was how agency and autonomy would be respected, and in what contexts children can give their consent on the internet.

“It’s important to discuss the autonomy of children because many of the discussions focus on child protection,” said Prof Sloth-Nielsen. “In the report, reference is made to the General Data Protection Regulation [GDPR], a wide-ranging new legislation implemented in Europe in 2018. This is serving as a benchmark in some African states for the development of local data protection laws. There has also been a call for some African countries to update their laws to be in line with the GDPR.”

Speaking on the impact of the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA) on children’s rights to privacy and data protection in the digital sphere, Varsha Sewlal, Executive for Legal, Policy Research and Information Technology Analysis at the Information Regulator of South Africa, opened her presentation by stating that privacy is a human right and essential to the preservation of human dignity.

“The position of children’s privacy in the digital sphere is fraught with several challenges,” she said. “Thus, you see a growing global call for regulatory intervention in the sector.”    

Watch the webinar on YouTube.

- Author Masego Panyane

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