Don’t children have the right to privacy? | Inquirer Opinion
Commentary

Don’t children have the right to privacy?

At the registration desk of a private hospital in Dhaka, an employee loudly asked for personal information, including phone number, address, etc., of everyone who came to take service there. At that moment, it occurred to me that many people do not understand the importance of privacy protection in our society. This becomes more evident when we observe the attitudes of adults toward children.Children have the right to privacy. According to Article 16 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, “No child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, home, or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his or her honor and reputation.” Unfortunately, awareness about this is very low in Bangladesh.

Nowadays, people of all ages use the internet for education, work, communication, and entertainment. Social media has also become a part of many people’s lives. This has positive aspects, but child protection and privacy are at risk.

Children can be harmed in many ways in the online world. One of these is the production, distribution, and use of images and videos of child sexual abuse. Online “grooming” is another serious issue, where abusers harm children after gaining their trust. Apart from this, children get information on various negative topics including militancy, drugs, and suicide through the internet.

Besides, many parents post on social media about their children’s likes and dislikes, achievements, and problems in academic and other domains, almost regularly. Disclosure of children’s personal information including location, name, date of birth, and school name puts them at risk. Anyone with malicious intentions can misuse this information to cause different types of harm.

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And who keeps track of how the children feel about parents sharing their everyday lives with the rest of the world without their consent? Children are not the property of the parents that they can treat them in whatever way they want to. Children are individuals with rights and a sense of dignity.It is the responsibility of parents to guide children to stay safe online. They should also ensure that none of their behavior puts the child at risk. Dr. Victoria Nash, director of the Oxford Internet Institute, provided some advice for parents to keep children safe online:

Children should enable privacy settings on social media. They need to know where their information is going and how it is being used. Even if a picture or video is deleted from the internet, it can still be viewed, or someone may have already taken a screenshot. Children need to be reminded of this. Parents have to know what apps, games, and social media platforms their children are using.

Besides, parents have to consider whether their posts will cause their children to feel ashamed, embarrassed, anxious, or upset in the future. Can it harm their children? It is important to take care that no one can know about the daily routine from the posts. Geotagging (through which the physical location of a person can be derived from the internet) needs to be stopped. Privacy settings will be such that posts can only be seen by trusted friends and family members. They should be told not to share the posts.Online activities mirror real life in most cases. If parents spend time with their children, listen to them actively, and know about their lives including their interests and friends, they can provide appropriate guidance and support to children to stay safe in the real and online world.

Helping children develop social and emotional skills, making them confident, asking them to use devices in open areas of the house, and setting time limits for device usage can be done by any parent. It does not require much technical knowledge.

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It is the responsibility of the state to formulate and implement the necessary laws and policies for child protection online. In Bangladesh, there is a need to harmonize laws relevant to protecting children online, which includes the Children Act 2013 (amended 2018), the Information and Communication Technology Act 2006 (amended 2013); the Digital Security Act 2018, and the Pornography Control Act 2012.Internet service providers, mobile phone companies, and all those involved in information and communication technology must consider children’s best interests with utmost importance while developing products and providing services. States should hold them accountable for their actions and nonactions.

It is our responsibility to ensure that using the internet is a positive experience for children, that it contributes to their development and empowerment, and that children are not put at risk because of parents’ and other adults’ actions. The Daily Star/Asia News Network

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Laila Khondkar is a development practitioner and researcher. She has worked on child protection, child rights governance, reproductive health, HIV/AIDS, etc.

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