The Fundación ANAR (abbreviation for Ayuda a Niños y Adolescentes en Riesgo, a group that helps at-risk children and adolescents) has been working for more than half a century to ensure promotion and defence of the rights of children and adolescents within the framework of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. In recent years, our work has been transformed by the impact of technology, which has a transversal effect on all the problems found in childhood and adolescence.
In 2020, as a result of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw how the problems of children and adolescents related to technology increased, from 23.2% to 29.9% of the total cases we dealt with. We are talking about situations such as grooming, cyberbullying, gender violence, child pornography and prostitution, eating disorders, self-harm, suicidal thoughts or attempts, and other psychological problems.
In 2020, there were also more consultations related to psychological problems due to stressful family situations: fear of losing a job, of not having enough food, not knowing how to adapt to the new situation, feeling the loss of freedom, sadness regarding the news and from the death of loved ones. These situations created a breeding ground that increased the propensity to suffer psychological problems. In addition to expected problems such as depression/sadness, grief, fears, anxiety, and isolation, we find a very significant increase in serious psychological problems such as suicidal thoughts/attempts, self-harm, and eating disorders.
Cases of domestic violence also increased, especially cases of physical and psychological abuse of minors. With the return to school, behavioural problems became even worse following an excessively pronounced period of time in which children and adolescents were alone, using technology on demand and without time controls from parents, who meanwhile were working from home. With the return to school, the lack of limits and respect for authority became even more apparent.
The Fundación ANAR promotes a range of principles and rights that should protect children and adolescents in their relationship with technologies. We at the Fundación ANAR believe it is urgently necessary to develop a legal framework to regulate the protection of minors in the use of information and communication technologies:
- Avoiding their access to Internet content aimed at adults that is harmful and dangerous for people who are underage (pornography, violence, drugs, etc.) through appropriate technical measures to show proof of having reached the age of majority.
- Preventing this type of content from appearing unintentionally (advertising, cookies, etc.) while they are using the Internet and digital media that is appropriate for their age.
- Making age verification, as of a certain age, mandatory for digital services that allow users to be children and adolescents.
- Ensuring digital training of mothers and fathers.
- Facilitating parental control mechanisms.
- Making the Internet a safe place for children and adolescents.
As the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has pointed out, the digital environment is of increasing importance for almost all aspects of the lives of children and adolescents. The rights of all of them must also be respected, protected, and enforced in the digital sphere.
The European Association for Digital Transition thanks the Fundación ANAR for their collaboration on our blog and their presence, through their legal represenatative Sonsoles Bartolomé, at the recent event organized by the EADT, ‘Digital Rights of Minors Online’.