[18 June 2014] - Censorship blocking information to children on sex, drugs, politics and other issues is doing more harm than good, says Child Rights International Network (CRIN) in a new policy paper.
Sex education, sexuality (particularly that of LGBT people, women and disabled people) and drugs are the main issues that children are routinely denied information about, according to the paper. However, 30 years after George Orwell’s novel 1984 was set, the overuse of internet filters and national agendas also mean that children are often unable to access information about campaigning and politics, and in some countries receive an overtly biased account of history in school textbooks.
The paper launches a new campaign - Protect Children, End Censorship - with which CRIN aims to draw attention to undue restrictions on children’s access to information, emphasise why such restrictions are violations of their rights and call for stronger standards and leadership in this area. Follow #1984children on Twitter for updates.
In the paper, "Access Denied: Protect rights - unblock children’s access to information", CRIN explains why access to information is vital for children’s enjoyment of their other human rights, including the right to life (e.g. sex education, including HIV/AIDS), health and protection from violence and exploitation because it allows them to be armed with the knowledge they need to make their own informed choices. It also highlights disproportionate restrictions on children’s access to information from around the world, before outlining the plethora of rights in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child they violate.
Issues covered in the paper include:
- ‘Harmful’ information: Seven States* have passed or proposed laws protecting children from “information deemed harmful to their health and development”. In particular, a pattern of laws is emerging which criminalise the “promotion of homosexuality to children”. CRIN believes this sinister set of laws foster intolerance and hatred, and child protection is an excuse to discriminate against and censor particular groups.
- Even States with good records on LGBT rights demonstrate homophobia when it comes to children. For example, in 2013 a teacher in Mexico City was fired for showing her students the film Milk, which tells the story of murdered US gay rights activist Harvey Milk, despite same-sex marriage being legal since 2009. Two week’s after Brazil’s Supreme Court granted same-sex couples the full state benefits allowed to heterosexual couples in 2011, the president suspended the distribution and production of films for schools aimed at combating homophobia.
- The control of disabled children’s sexuality, including forced sterilisation. Colombia’s Constitutional Court held in 2013 that forced sterilisation can be performed on children with severe and permanent mental disabilities.
- Sex is at the forefront of marketing to sell products, yet it is shrouded in secrecy in many parts of the world. Lack of sex education in childhood can prevent people having safe and healthy sex lives, leading to unintended pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, abuse and exploitation.
- Internet firewalls: The way that children access information is also under fire. In the UK overly broad mobile internet filters - reaching well beyond adult sexual content - are blocking websites containing information about sexual health as well as political and advocacy websites.
- In many countries children are denied information about drugs and excluded from policy design and awareness raising campaigns. This puts children at risk because they are not aware of all the facts.
- Biased textbooks: Children are typically the focus of projects to suppress versions of history because childhood is when people form views about the world. Attempts to impose state ideology through textbooks have occurred in a vast swath of countries, including Iran, China, South Korea, Chile, and Japan.
The paper says: “Disproportionate restrictions on children’s access to information feed into the idea that children are blank canvases to be painted by adults, rather than human beings with rights, views and feelings of their own. This is not to say that children should not be protected. But the misplaced fear (often reinforced by political agendas) that honest information teaches children promiscuity or irresponsibility prevents children from making decisions about their own health, identifying sources of help, and puts them at risk in their first sexual experiences and beyond.”
CRIN is calling for stronger international standards, guidelines and model laws on children’s access to information by the United Nations and regional human rights mechanisms. In particular:
- The Committee on the Rights of the Child should pursue children’s right to access information in its examination of States, clarify the goals of children’s right to access to information (article 17, CRC) and freedom of expression (article 13, CRC) to prevent dispropriate restrictions, and explicitly recommend to States that children receive sexuality education according to international standards.
- The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression should carry out an in-depth global study on restrictions to children’s access to information.
CRIN is also urging national governments to review and revise laws and policies that block children’s access to information, and to be transparent on any necessary restrictions on children’s access to information.
Join the debate
Follow #1984children on Twitter.
CRIN aims to promote policy discussions and ignite debate about children’s rights, and would like to hear from people with:
- Comments on the paper;
- Information about laws or policies restricting children’s access to information;
- Relevant positive developments in laws and policies; and/or
- Ideas for further regional and international advocacy.
- CRIN’s campaign: Protect Children, End Censorship
- Download the press release (in both English and Russian)
- Policy paper: Access Denied: Protect rights - unblock children’s access to information
- Twitter hashtag: #1984children
* Lithuania, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Russia, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. Lithuania, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine all have explicit prohibitions on the distribution of information about homosexuality to children.