Q&A with Isidora & Company Advocates: Parental responsibility in a digitized Tanzania

Saturday June 22 2019

 

Digital technology has changed photography, so much so that it’s possible to take and store manifold photos than we did a long time ago.

Photos of children are scattered across social media networks, making it easy for many people worldwide to see and share them beyond the intended audience. What does that mean for children in Tanzania today? My wife and I think that the issue of parental responsibility and children living in a digitized Tanzania is very critical for families and the Tanzanian society.

Are the courts of law the answer? Congratulations, this weekly column has earned the respect of many! Best regards, Ed and Julie.

Thank you, Ed and Julie. We fully and absolutely agree with you that parental responsibility in a digitised Tanzania is a very critical issue today.

While parents are generally adept at understanding the complexities and vagaries of digitalization, children are trying to learn the implications of living in today’s digitized Tanzania.

Of course, the learning process is considerably controlled by parents, who, beyond reaching their own decisions, create an indelible record in the digital footprint of their children whose photos and other information they post on social media networks.

Fortunately, from the perspectives of privacy law, the law of the child, and the child’s feelings, most parents in Tanzania are aware that such action takes away the child’s right of opinion and ability to decide on his or her digital footprint.

They are also aware that their children would henceforward have to manage that footprint.

Major legal issues

The manner in which parents share information about their children on social media networks raises major legal issues. But first, some pertinent questions: Does the Tanzanian society support parental autonomy, and does it protect the right to freedom of expression?

Under section 9 of the Law of the Child Act, No. 21 of 2009 (‘LCA 2009’), a child shall have a right to dignity and respect from his or her parents.

The provision also casts duties and responsibilities on the parents to protect the child from abuse and exposure to physical and moral hazards and oppression, and to provide guidance for the child.

In addition, section 11 of the LCA 2009 bestows the right of opinion upon a child and prohibits a person from depriving a child capable of forming views the right to express an opinion, to be listened to, and to participate in decisions which affect his or her well-being.

In light of these provisions, could a court order requiring parents to remove photos of their children they post on social media networks violate the parents’ constitutional right to freedom of expression?

A focus on guiding parents

It’s arguable whether the courts of law would be the answer to the issue of parental responsibility and children living in a digitized Tanzania. Although the courts may suitably deal with extreme situations (such as, when a parent posts a child’s photo in a way that subjects the child to degrading treatment), a focus on guiding parents to weigh up the ramifications of posting information about their children on social media networks would be more suitable.

The term ‘degrading treatment’ as used under section 13 of the LCA 2009 means “an act done to a child with the intention of humiliating or lowering his dignity”. In short, behaviour change among parents appears to be a more successful approach for the digitized Tanzanian society.

US and EU experience

In the US, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, 1998 (COPPA), which applies to Tanzania and other foreign-operated websites if such sites “are directed to children in the US or knowingly collect information from children in the US, has been criticized as possibly unconstitutional by legal doyens because website owners simply block users who are 12 and under, thereby promoting age fraud and permitting websites to circumvent the burden of obtaining parental consent.

Besides, it is increasingly maintained that COPPA aggressively suppresses children’s constitutional rights, including the right to freedom of speech and to self-expression.

Some research studies have established that compulsory age verification is a poor response to the challenge of children’s privacy in a digitized age and violates privacy. Scholars also contend that parents, not the government, assume the greater responsibility for protecting children online. However, in our view, this issue requires a combined effort from parents/guardians, teachers, children, the government and businesses.

Mentioning only in passing, the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has built a strong legal fortress for securing children’s data in Europe.

Article 8 of the GDPR states that children’s personal information deserves parental consent.

The question remains of whether the same can be said of Tanzania’s laws on data privacy and protection which are scattered haphazardly within various pieces of legislation.

Please do send us your questions by email to: qa@isidoralaw.co.tz

DISCLAIMER: The purpose of this weekly Q&A column with Isidora & Company Advocates is intended to educate the public on Tanzanian law matters, and is not a substitute for the role of your legal counsel. For any legal issue you face, you are strongly encouraged to contact your legal counsel.