This section focuses on the issues that are most likely to pose risks of child rights infringements for the ICT industry. This is not an exhaustive list but only a selection of the key risks. For an overview of all risks and recommended remedies, please refer to documents listed under tools and guidance.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that approximately 1 million children are working to mine or quarry gold, tin, coal, diamonds, gems, stone and salt, with the number increasing every year. Children are reported to be involved in the extraction of a range of minerals commonly used in the production of desktops, servers, laptops, smart phones and tablets, exposing ICT companies to risks of child labour deep within their supply chain. To avoid contributing to child labour through their sourcing decisions, ICT companies will need to ensure that their due diligence procedures tackle risks from the mines, right through to smelters and ultimately their production sites. Further information can be found in the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Companies report titled Practical Actions for Companies to Identify and Address the Worst Forms of Child Labour in Mineral Supply Chains.
Decent work for young workers
Young workers and student workers are more vulnerable to inappropriate working conditions, including long working conditions and the underpayment of wages, if they are employed on temporary contracts or participating in vocational education and training (VET). Young workers and student workers employed in this way often lack the protections of permanent workers. The Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) has reported that student workers have been found to be working in poor working conditions in some VET programmes. Violations typically relate to the insecure contracts, the underpayment and late payment of wages and forced or compulsory overtime.
Case Study: EICC and Stanford University's REAP develop vocational school credentialing system in China
To address concerns around student workers in China, the Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) partnered with Stanford University’s Rural Education Action Program (REAP) to create and evaluate a credentialing system for schools in the Henan province that focused on a collaboration between vocational schools, the ICT industry and the local government to create a way to measure the quality of schools that were partnering with suppliers to the electronics industry. The Henan province was chosen because it is one of the most populated, has been designated as a “key province” for vocational education, and is often the primary source of labour for firms across the country.
In this pilot, schools became credentialed by meeting a strict set of criteria designed by REAP and approved by the EICC. The credentialing program had direct, statistically significant impacts on student educational outcomes:
- Improved vocational skills by 55%
- Improved math skills by 34%
- Reduced school dropout by 15%
By establishing systematic monitoring and accountability for student outcomes, vocational schools have more incentive to provide quality education and safe and productive work experiences. Students, their families and the government will know which VET schools provide good opportunities and EICC members will know which schools are most desirable for recruiting purposes.
Family friendly working conditions
The conditions for working parents inside ICT factories directly impact their children, particularly in relation to low wages and long working hours. These conditions acutely impact children of internal migrants. Internal migrants, who make up a large proportion of the ICT workforce, often have limited access to decent housing and basic services, including child care and schools. Due to these challenges, many migrant workers send their children to their hometowns to be raised by extended family, severing parent-child bonds and putting children at risk of neglect.
Inappropriate conduct, content or contact
Children may be exposed to online exploitation or abuse if ICT companies fail to create safe and age-appropriate online environment for children. Children are not simply passive recipients of information, they are receivers and actors in their online environment. Online safety for children is oriented around three primary areas: inappropriate content, contact and conduct. Further information about these risks can be found in UNICEF’s 2014 report Releasing Children’s Potential and Minimizing Risks: ICTs, the Internet and Violence Against Children.
- Inappropriate content: Children may be exposed to disturbing or potentially harmful content on websites, social media platforms and online forums. This may include violent content, such as images and descriptions associated with war and other atrocities, domestic abuse and violence, cruelty to animals, and hateful, damaging or otherwise harmful material that may promote racial and religious hatred, homophobia or misogyny. Children may also be exposed to content that discusses suicide, self-harm, and eating disorders. Inappropriate content may also include reference to child sexual abuse images and videos.
- Inappropriate contact: Children and young people may be recipients of inappropriate advances online, such as online grooming. Grooming is typically characterised by a clear power imbalance between the adult and the victim. Perpetrators of grooming often seduce their victims on social media networks and blogs, with many using ICTs to arrange in-person meetups with children and underage teenagers. ICTs and the internet allow sex buyers to search and arrange sex actions from almost anywhere, facilitating sexual abuse and sex tourism, including the development of child sexual abuse live streaming.
- Inappropriate conduct: Cyberbullying is growing area in which children may be involved – either as a perpetrator or victim – of inappropriate conduct. Cyberbullying may include spreading rumours; posting false information or nasty massages, embarrassing comments or photos; or excluding someone from online networks or other communications. Research conducted by EU Kids Online found that the most common technologies for cyberbullying were social networking sites (7% of children in the preceding 12 months), SMS and texts (3%), phone calls (2%), instant messaging (2%) and gaming websites (2%). Similarly, the phenomenon of ‘sexting’ – sending explicit self-generated text messages or images by mobile phone or instant messenger – is now widespread. The perceived anonymity of the online environment may encourage children to issue inappropriate images on impulse.
Freedom of expression, access to information and participation
Children’s freedom of expression online may be undermined if ICT companies respond to parental demands for greater control and government demands to block and filter harmful content. Constraints on children’s digital expression are often justified as an essential protection measure to combat online violence and exploitation.
Similarly, with the growth of online recruitment of young people to violent extremist organisations, governments have expressed their concern that children are being radicalised through social media networks, messaging applications and other digital platforms and have called for stronger monitoring and tracking of children’s online behaviour and the application of filters and blocks on potentially extremist content. Further information about these risks can be found in UNICEF’s report Freedom of Expression, Access to Information and Participation and the UN Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Protection and Promotion of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression in a digital age.
- Service provider-deployed blocking and filtering: Children’s access to information may be denied if their online experience is limited by extensive network-level blocking or online filtering. ICT companies implementing blocking or filtering systems may be accused of supporting state-sponsored censorship or further entrenching societal prejudice or discrimination, particularly if they are applied without independent verification or scrutiny.
- Notice and takedown: Children’s freedom of expression may be undermined if their online posts are deleted or accounts suspended. Social media websites, search engines and internet platform providers are increasingly being asked to police platforms to prevent the use or upload of harmful or illegal content.
- Child-specific search engines: Children’s access to information may be restricted if ICT companies apply filters to restrict the range of search results children are able to access. The application of such age specific filters have been designed to prevent children from accessing harmful or illegal content, however, there is a risk that overly broad restrictions may threaten or severely constrain children’s ability to access beneficial information.
Privacy, protection of personal information and reputational rights
ICT companies that allow for excessive interference or oversight of children’s online browsing risk deny children’s right of expression, access to information and development of digital literacy. Further information on how ICT companies can effectively manage these risks can be found in UNICEF’s report Privacy, Protection of Personal Information and Reputational Rights.
- Internet browsing data: Children are more susceptible to advertising and marketing techniques; and their preferences and behaviours are more open to influence and manipulation. ICT companies may be accused of undermining children’s privacy rights if they sell or disclose personal information to advertisers, data brokers and third parties. This browsing data may further be manipulated to inform behavioural targeting and advertising to children.
- Biometric data: The growth and sophistication of social media and online photo sharing services have allowed users to easily tag and organise pictures of children. If ICT companies allow for online photos to be tagged and shared without the authorisation of the child, the child’s privacy is being affected as personal information about the child – including their facial identify and personal information – is shared without authorisation.
- Age verification and identity data: New technology designed to identify the age and sex of online users has been introduced by several companies to protect children from accessing inappropriate services and products, such as pornography. However, such age and identity verification practices also undermine the right to privacy. If exploited, advertising companies may use such services to target commercial messages to children.
- Encryption: Encryption is increasingly being used to secure communications, web browsing and online transactions from outside monitoring and interference. While encryption can protect children’s data from external monitoring and unauthorised access, it may also be used to evade the detection of individuals or organisations wishing to inflict harm on children.
- Government surveillance: Children’s privacy rights may be undermined if their online activities are heavily monitored or communication channels intervened. Mass surveillance may be conducted without the knowledge or assistance of ICT companies, who typically own and manage communication channels being intervened.
- Parental controls: Parental controls have been developed to protect children from harmful content and sexual exploitation, however, they also present a clear interference with children’s privacy. They can be used by parents to limit or prohibit children wishing to explore issues such as sexuality, politics and religion. ICT companies can be accused of supplying parents with the tools they need to control or restrict children’s access to information.
- Online reputation: Concerns about children’s online reputation relate to unauthorised use of children’s images, particularly sexually explicit images which may be self-published and inadvertently shared within networks for child sexual abuse material. Similarly, online cyberbullying on social media networks threaten the reputation and wellbeing of children.
Community and Environment
As new technologies develop, old computers, phones and other electronic devices are increasingly being discarded. Recycling valuable elements contained in e-waste, such as copper and gold, has become a source of income for many communities, however dangerous techniques used to recycle some components – such as burning cables to reach the copper components – expose child workers and their families to a range of hazardous substances. The World Health Organization (WHO) has cited the inhalation of toxic fumes, as well as the accumulation of chemicals in soil, water and food as key areas of concern. Children are especially vulnerable to health risks that may result from e-waste as exposure to toxic substances may hamper their development and cause irreversible physical damage. Further information can be found on the WHO Electronic Waste website page.