All about the Child’s Right to Freedom of Expression

For the UN and Freedom of Expression and Information Critical Perspectives Congress I wrote a paper to explore the work done by the Committee on the Rights of the Child with regard to the right to freedom of expression. The congress is organized by the ACIL (Amsterdam Center for International Law) and the Institute for Information Law (IVIR), Faculty of Law, UvA, with the collaboration of Human Rights Centre, University of Essex.

The paper can be found here: The Committee on the Rights of the Child & Freedom of Expression (Draft – not for citation or circulation). Below is a preview.

The right to freedom of expression is protected in many international and regional treaties. These treaties are applicable to children in their capacity as being part of ‘everyone’. The Convention on the Rights of the Child (hereafter: ‘the Convention’) protects the child’s right to free expression which is firmly-rooted throughout the whole of the Convention. The protection of the right to freedom of expression of children in particular can be seen as reaffirming that the general right to freedom of expression also applies to children. The main difference between provisions in many international treaties and the provisions in the Convention, is that the latter is tailored to children. This differentiation evoked a profound discussion on the formulation of the child’s right to freedom of expression. For instance, discussions on Article 17 of the Convention regarding the role of the mass media were characterized by a clash between two competing approaches. One that supported the free flow of information and one that supported a somewhat more paternalistic approach by preferring the protection of children from harmful information. However, this does not mean that the Convention provides absolutely no protection of children from harmful information. The purpose of this paper is to explore the work done by the monitoring body of the Convention, the Committee on the Rights of the Child (hereafter: ‘the Committee’), with regard to the right to freedom of expression.

My paper for the Nottingham Student Human Rights Conference

I wrote an abstract for a paper for the Annual Student Human Rights Conference in Nottingham.

The right to freedom of expression is protected in many international and regional treaties. These treaties are applicable to children in their capacity as being part of ‘everyone’. In contrast, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (hereafter “the Convention”) protects the right to free expression of children in particular by means of Article 13 of the Convention.

The protection of the right to freedom of expression of children in particular can be seen as reaffirming that the general right to freedom of expression also applies to children. The main difference between provisions in many international treaties and the provisions in the Convention is that the latter is tailored to children. Most international treaties protect against state interference, but children require a positive obligation to be placed on the state to fully enjoy their right to freedom of expression. The Convention and the Committee on the Rights of the Child (the monitoring body of the Convention) call for such a positive obligation.

The right to freedom of expression, as enshrined in the Convention, is part of a cluster of participatory rights that are laid down in the Convention. The child’s right to freedom of expression includes the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds. This right is an important pre-requisite to realise participation of children. This right implies both a passive and an active approach by States Parties. On the one hand, States Parties are required to refrain from interfering with the free process of seeking, receiving and imparting information. On the other hand, States Parties are required to actively enable children to receive and impart information. Technology, and the Internet in particular, can be a tool for States Parties to enable children to fully enjoy their right to seek, receive and impart information. When the Committee on the Rights of the Child speaks of media, it primarily considers traditional media. When the Internet is mentioned by the Committee, it is primarily mentioned in the context of pornography, violence, racism or otherwise harmful content, and not as a tool to enable children to enjoy their right to freedom of expression.

The purpose of this paper is to explore the work done by the monitoring body of the Convention, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, with regard to the right to freedom of expression in relation to new technologies. On the basis of original research of Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, this paper explains the (so far) untapped potential of relevant Convention provisions and the use of new technology to advance the right to freedom of expression of children.

Footnotes omitted