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UNICEF’s Manifesto on Good Data Governance for Children

The Case for Better Governance of Children's Data

Posted on 16th of August 2021 by Emma Borgnäs, Julia Black

UNICEF’s Manifesto on Good Data Governance for Children
UNICEF’s Manifesto on Good Data Governance for Children

Use and reuse of children’s data can bring opportunities and better and more targeted services, but can also create challenges and potentially serious harm if these data are mishandled and misused. Maximising the benefits gleaned from data and preventing the misuse of data requires laws, policies, frameworks and agreements that set clear benchmarks for use of children’s data as well as responsible actions from companies and organisations processing children’s data.  

UNICEF has recently undertaken two major initiatives to address these requirements.  The Responsible Data for Children Initiative (RD4C), carried out in collaboration with the GovLab, supports best practice in data responsibility; identifies challenges and develops practical tools to assist practitioners in evaluating and addressing them; and encourages a broader discussion on actionable principles, insights, and approaches for responsible data management.  

UNICEF’s Office for Global Insight and Policy project on Good Governance of Children’s Data focuses primarily on legal and policy frameworks related to data, and corporate data policies. We recently took a closer look into what it would take to ensure that robust laws and policies are in place to protect children’s data, resulting in a Manifesto, or a call for action to international and national bodies to prioritise children’s issues in data governance frameworks. Both the RD4Cand the Good Governance projects place children’s rights in the centre: one of the seven principles of the RD4C project asks for a recognition of children’s distinctive rights in handling of children’s data in practice; the Manifesto calls for centrality of children’s rights in international frameworks, national and corporate policies.  

In our work, we drew on a series of discussion papers on different aspects of children’s data governance authored by a working group of 17 experts, including the GovLab’s Andrew Young, who authored a paper on Responsible group data for children. 

Other issues these papers unpack relate to child data governance gaps highlighted by Covid-19; the surveillance of children by governments to support national security and public order priorities; data-driven marketing to children by global brands on digital platforms and services popular with young people; the responsibility of technology companies to incorporate safety into the design of their products likely to be used by children; children’s data processing in an education context used to teach them, surveil them and make predictions about their abilities; and a fiduciary approach to children’s data governance  

The Manifesto proposes ten action points to improve global data governance for children, grouped around three critical areas. The first set of action points (1-3) calls for the strengthening of norms, standards and principles; the second set of action points (4-7) refers to requirements to put these frameworks, laws and policies into practice; and the third set of action points (8-10) describes some of the enablers of good data governance for children:

  1. PROTECT children and their rights through child-centred data governance.
  2. PRIORITIZE children's best interests in all decisions about children's data.
  3. CONSIDER children’s unique identities, evolving capacities and circumstances in data governance frameworks.  
  4. SHIFT responsibility for data protection from children to companies and governments.  
  5. COLLABORATE with children and their communities in policy building and management of their data.  
  6. REPRESENT children’s interests within administrative and judicial processes, as well as redress mechanisms.  
  7. PROVIDE adequate resources to implement child-inclusive data governance frameworks.  
  8. USE policy innovation in data governance to solve complex problems and accelerate results for children.  
  9. BRIDGE knowledge gaps in the realm of data governance for children.  
  10. STRENGTHEN international collaboration for children’s data governance and promote knowledge and policy transfer among countries.  

You can read the manifesto in full here, as well as the background papers that informed its development here. UNICEF convened a webinar about the manifesto which you can watch here 

For further information or to discuss implementation of the manifesto at a national level please contact Jasmina Byrne, Chief of Policy at UNICEF OGIP at [email protected] and Emma Day at [email protected] 

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