ARASA demands children’s access to digital space



MASERU – AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA) has voiced concern over children’s lack of access to the internet and digital technology. ARASA says this remains a primary challenge to children’s meaningful participation in the digital space.

This, ARASA says, impedes on children’s rights and is a barrier to access Sexual Reproductive and Health Rights (SRHR) information, services and, as a result, restricts children from making informed decisions on their bodily autonomy and integrity. ARASA also says access to the internet has enabled some children to exercise their rights during emergencies such as Covid-19.

According to ARASA, the digital divide is an unsatisfactory access to digital technology, causes socio-economic inequalities and further marginalisation of people in remote communities, including children living in poverty, children who are out of school and migrants. All this results in unintended pregnancies, child marriages, increased HIV, and GBV due to limited access to SRHR information, ARASA says.  As a result, the Alliance is calling upon the African Union (AU) member states to address the digital divide, which has been noted as one of the contributing factors causing inequalities in adolescents’ access to sexual reproductive health services and rights to bodily autonomy and integrity.

ARASA also urges member states to strike a balance by implementing policies that promote access to the internet in marginalised communities while protecting children from harm caused by internet and cybercrime.  “Access to technology should be an enabler to promote SRHR and prevent GBV for adolescents in marginalised communities. We urge member states to implement the declaration of freedom of expression and access to information with emphasis on promotion of inclusive digital technologies to address the digital divide,” the Alliance says.

They further note that the limited access to the internet or lack of information has contributed to child pregnancies and marriages, an increase in HIV and has seen some children dropping out of school.   “The internet provides invaluable opportunities for the realisation of children’s fundamental rights to health, education and freedom of expression and association, among others,” they further say.

An advocate for adolescent SRHR, Relebohile Bathobakae, told this publication that the digital environment is becoming increasingly important across most aspects of children’s lives, including during times of crisis. She said it is time that the rights of every child are respected, protected and fulfilled in the digital environment.

“Lack of access to education on SRHR results in a range of harmful practices, which have a huge adverse effect on sustainable development,” she explained. She also said despite the global agreements on adolescents’ sexual reproductive health and rights, access and utilisation of services among young people remain unsatisfactory, becoming a barrier to progress in digital spaces.

Working to promote, respect and protect the right to bodily autonomy and integrity for all in order to reduce inequality, ARASA this year joined the rest of the world in commemorating the Day of African Child themed ‘The rights of the child in digital environment.’

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