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Right to Childhood in an AI, gamified online world.

The right to childhood (and its an ambiguous one) would fall more likely under The Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), more than the Universal Human Rights Treaty introduced in 1948. Even then, childhood is not defined. A child is a human under the age of 18 years. Hence, we need special guidelines for a child “every human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.”

Think about AI access for children and content they can view, interact with and make). The selection of 18 years is also interesting as brains develop differently and culture and context may also have some impact on responsibilities - brains develop till ~25 year (see this article).

Where is the treaty unclear in this AI-age, in implementation across those member states (except USA) that have ratified it?

Article 31: The right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.  

More specifically Article 29 focuses on soft skills like development of personality, respect for human rights and planet, and preparation for responsibility,


Wellbeing: Article 17 focuses on “social, spiritual and moral well-being and physical and mental health.”

The right to be a child and the passage to adulthood, for me, is a a fundamental part of being a child. To enjoy the time to be a child and explore their own potential, their physical world and their physical community and social networks is important.  

We need policies in place on leisure time and this means time away from online platforms. It is well known that social skills, curiosity, and fine motor skills, for example, develop through play. The ability to participate and engage with the community are also important, as it may prepare the child for future responsibilities. Engaging in the physical world may also spark curiosity and caretaking about the planet.

I would say the right to childhood is the right to play (not a gamified play but explorative play). While yes, online games like Minecraft can do this, a child also needs to learn to disconnect from such devices and play with age appropriate (age should also be mental age not always physical age) content. There are studies gamification can impact neural pathways, so the experiences a child has may have repercussions (good and bad) into their adulthood. Who decides what is appropriate and when it is being used for education, who vets the content?

What is happening in the policy space

The UK has the UK Online Safety Act (2023), requires age assurance for online platforms. Can it be bypassed, yes if a child has been given aceess to an account by an adult or there is no way to verify age with legal documents (this may intrude on privacy). The penalties are high for companies that do not comply: Companies can be fined up to £18 million or 10 percent of their qualifying worldwide revenue, whichever is greater.


Finland is planning to ban the use of mobile phones in schools. The draft law will come up for vote in Fall of 2024. This is in line with a call by UNESCO. Incidentally a significant amount of cyberbullying happens in schools – 1 in 6 children according to WHO.


South Korea had the Youth Protection Revision Act or the Cinderella Law, which limited the time youth were online from 6am till midnight,  but revoked it during the pandemic in 2021.

Where else do the current treaties fail to consider AI?

Article 32: Economic exploitation which includes minimum age for employment.

Is earning tokens employment when it makes money for someone, the platform provider? What about kids earning money as an influencer for their parents?), regulation of hours and conditions (who decides?). During the lockdown, in Philippines, many children were involved in bitcoin mining. Is this child labour? What about if a parent is using a child for their influencer profile? How about children playin on Minecraft - creating content but the beneficiary is the game world who can sell that content? The laws are not clear.


Addictions: Article 33 only speaks of “narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances”

Social media and gaming are also being recognised as addictive like drugs and WHO considers compulsive gaming a psychiatric disorder. You can see more on policies in place for this here. China was the first country to have a policy in 2008, WHO did it ten years later. Perhaps we need more resources here - healthy child is a key to a healthy adulthood and adult decision making.

Physical Child trafficking is not allowed (Article 12) nor is sexual exploitation (Article 34).

However, these articles says nothing about cyber-trafficking. In one of the cases I refer to in my book Business with Purpose, physical trafficking had moved online and many parents did not know their children were inciting strangers into their homes (raise the questions of parental/caretaker responsibility and supervision).

With the proliferation of deep fakes, there has been more cybercrimes of child pornography which violates Article 16 (a child’s right to privacy). Here the criminals are using children's photos, creating deep fakes and selling them on the dark web to paedophiles (see article). Parents need to be aware at what levels child online sexual crimes can occur (research article here)

What are some policies here? There are actions at the ISP level, police level (national and international) but we need more societal education. Think of the recent case in Australia where a student deepfaked the classmates in sexual photos. Australia has introduced a bill, Criminal Code Amendment (Deepfake Sexual Material) Bill 2024 that will criminalise the distribution of deepfake pornography. New Zealand had an interesting campaign aimed at parents.

Freedom of expression: Here inn article 13, it focuses on the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas “of all kinds, regardless of frontiers”  in any kind of medium : “orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child's choice”,

Subject to the

13.2a: respect of the rights or reputations of others

13.2b: protection of national security or of public order, or of public health or morals


Note the importance of print, reinforced in Article 17 (though now we have online books). Do we check the children have acces to a book permananetly, that the chidlern can refer back to previous edictiosn as online article can be changed and interfered with but old books cannot? This case of rewriting history for example can be dangerous and interfere with the child's right to identity. As more countries move education online, there are inherent dangers they may not have considered. Too often visual stimalation may also be incorrect and remmeberd more easily. Learning has many parts like the patience to search and validate information - how can you do this online if an algorithm is trained and can be biased? While policies are there in term of bias - do we have enough for child education?


Freedom of expression needs to also acknowledge the rights of others and it needs to confirm to culture or context. While laws are there - who is responsible for educating a child and its parents and caretakers?

Who is Responsible in the World of AI:

Article 3.2: The responsibilities are extended to “rights and duties of his or her parents, legal guardians, or other individuals legally responsible for him or her.”


This extends to “extended family or community as provided for by local custom” (article 5).


This includes schools and governments that can affect children age 18 and below (also outlined in Article 4). In fact, Article 18 says “States Parties shall render appropriate assistance to parents and legal guardians in the performance of their child-rearing responsibilities and shall ensure the development of institutions, facilities and services for the care of children.”


The responsibilities of State are again reinforced in Article 19/26 (policies against harm, for social security, standard of living, eductaion), Article 20 /21/25(caretaking/adoption); Article 22 (refugee children), Article 23 (children of determination);  Article 24 (health);  Article 31 (culture) . The state is responsible to prevent a child’s exploitation.


Mass media is tasked with this responsibility (Article 17) and I believe this should include platform companies (gaming, social media etc – any place children congregate, including schools/university online platforms and are given content en mass). For example, Lego encourages parents to play with their kids and have those important conversations.


Hence we see there is a tremendous amount of work to be done and we do not have the luxury of time!

Image: Pexels from Pixabay.


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