We now live in a digitalized world as the impact of technology can be felt across all sectors with the attendant increase and paradigm shift from the traditional means of doing things to a more advanced and digitalized form. The increase in the adoption of digitalization was further aggravated by the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020, which compelled most people or organizations to adopt and explore digital means of doing things.
Although the positive impacts of digitalization can be felt across all sectors, it nevertheless reeks of certain frailties, one of which impacts on the potential of privacy rights abuses and implications. While that is not the subject of this piece, it is imperative to point out that the impacts of digitalization also extend to children who also explore the digital space for their class activities, games, assignments, social media, etc., using invasive toys, video games, mobile devices, and personal assistant gadgets.
It is in light of the above that this piece aims at giving an overview of certain rights that accrue to a child in the digital environment as well as ways of seeking redress in the event of infractions of these rights under the extant laws in Nigeria.
WHO IS A CHILD?
According to the Child Rights Act (CRA), a child is any person under the age of 18 years.[i] The CRA is the most comprehensive piece of legislation particularly dedicated to the right, welfare, and well-being of a child in Nigeria, and this has been domesticated by several states as their individual Child Rights Laws.
Asides from the CRA and the respective Child Rights Law of respective states, other laws that impact the rights of a child (physical or digital rights) includes the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), the Children and Young Persons Act (which has equally been domesticated by individual states as their Children and Young Persons Law), the Cybercrimes (Prevention and Prohibition) Act, 2015, etc.
At the International level, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child, 1989, defines a child as every human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.[ii]
AN OVERVIEW OF THE RIGHTS OF A CHILD
A child, just like an adult, is entitled to certain rights under the law. Some of such rights are enshrined under the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (As Amended`0 particularly Chapter IV, which includes rights such as the right to life[iii], right to dignity[iv], right to personal liberty,[v]right to fair hearing,[vi]right to privacy,[vii], etc.
This is further buttressed by the provision of Section 3 of the Child Rights Act, which provides thus:
“The provisions in Chapter IV of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, or any successive constitutional provisions relating to Fundamental Rights, shall apply as if those provisions are expressly stated in this Act”
Asides from a child being guaranteed all of the rights contained in the constitution, the Child Rights Act similarly contains certain rights such as the right to survival and development,[viii] right to a name[ix], right to freedom from discrimination[x], right to health and health services[xi], right to parental care protection and maintenance[xii], right to leisure, recreation and cultural activities[xiii], etc.
The above-stated rights accrue to a child at all times irrespective of the mode, whether physically or digitally.
AN OVERVIEW OF THE RIGHTS OF A CHILD IN THE DIGITAL SPACE
The impacts of digitalization on humans (children inclusive) have been mentioned at the beginning of this piece. Digitalization has seen children own mobile gadgets, invasive toys, personal assistant gadgets, video games, etc., which often collect their data with the potential intrusion of their privacy. Thus, while exploring the digital space, a child is guaranteed and entitled to certain rights as highlighted below:
- Right to Private and Family Life:
A child’s right to privacy, family life, home, correspondence, telephone conversations, and telegraphic communications are guaranteed and protected under section 8 of the Child Rights Act. A similar provision is contained under section 37 of the 1999 Constitution, which also guarantees the right of the child to privacy.
Thus, in the digital space, a child’s right to privacy and to have his correspondence and telegraphic communications are guaranteed and protected. This, however, is subject to such child’s parent or legal guardian’s exercise of reasonable supervision and control over the child.
- Right against pornography:
The cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention, etc.) Act, 2015 protects a child from child pornography and other related offences.[xiv], By virtue of the Act, any person who intentionally proposes, grooms, or solicits, through any computer system or network, to meet a child for the purpose of engaging in sexual activities with the child is in breach of the provisions of the Act. Similarly, possessing, distributing, producing, or transmitting child pornography is punishable under the Act.
This would imply that sexual conversations with a minor, luring a minor to engage in child pornography, or other acts calculated towards bringing a child to engage in pornography in the digital space is a breach of the minor’s right which can be enforced against the perpetrator.
The legislative framework governing a child’s right to digital/online privacy is far from being perfect. Although there are laws governing a child’s rights online, as dealt upon in parts of this piece, there is absence of a dedicated piece of legislation that speaks to the rights of a child in cyberspace. Nevertheless, it is important to reiterate the need for the interest of a child to be paramount in all matters affecting a child. This is aptly covered under Section 1 of the CRA, which states:
“In every action concerning a child, whether undertaken by an individual, public or private body, institutions or service, court of law, or administrative or legislative authority, the best interest of the child shall be the primary consideration”
Children in this day and age explore the digital space a lot. This comes with several implications, such as potential for privacy invasion, access to adult contents, etc. it is recommended that a law dedicated to child’s digital rights be passed to extend protection to the rights of a child while exploring cyberspace.
[i] See Section 277 of the Child Rights Act, 2003
[ii] See Article 1 of the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child, 1989.
[iii] Section 33 of the Constitution
[iv] Section 34 of the Constitution
[v] Section 35 of the Constitution
[vi] Section 36 of the Constitution
[vii] Section 37 of the Constitution
[viii] Section 4 of the Child’s Right Act (CRA)
[ix] Section 5 of the CRA
[x] Section 10 of the CRA
[xi] Section 13 of the CRA
[xii] Section 14 of the CRA
[xiii] Section 12 of the CRA
[xiv] See Section 23 of the Cybercrimes Act, 2015
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