21st CSO Forum Ordinary Session

    The African Civil Society Forum (CSO Forum) is a group of Civil Society Organizations from all the five
    African regions, namely, East, Southern, North, West and Central through their regional child networks.
    The Forum exists to speak with one voice in pursuit of the common interest of the rights and welfare
    of African children as articulated in the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC)
    and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).
    The CSO Forum was established in 2009 to provide a platform for African child focused CSOs working
    on the rights and welfare of children across Africa to engage with the African Committee of Experts on
    the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC/the Committee), UNCRC, Member states to the African
    Charter, key child rights experts, African Union representatives, and relevant stakeholders engaged in
    advancing child rights in Africa. The Forum meets at least twice a year, before the sessions of the
    ACERWC, to take stock of progress, challenges, and priorities of children in Africa and prepare
    submissions for the ACERWC sessions.
    The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) was adopted in 1990 and came
    into force in 1999. The instrument established the ACERWC as the institutionalized mechanism for
    monitoring and holding member states accountable for its implementation. The Charter also provides
    for the active involvement of civil society actors in supporting the role of the Committee and in ensuring
    the effective implementation of the Charter at country level as well as the UNCRC. The CSO Forum has
    a standing slot at the ACERWC Sessions where it presents Statements covering key issues agreed on
    during CSO Forum Sessions which precede the ACERWC Sessions and the Council on the UNCRC.
    The CSO Forum meets twice a year; at the beginning of the year for organizational and/or strategic
    issues, and at the end of the year for programmatic issues before the sessions of the ACERWC. These
    sessions bring together CSOs working on the rights and welfare of children across Africa, key child
    rights experts, Development Partners, and African Union representatives. The 21st Ordinary session
    of the CSO Forum builds on the previous session that had a series of activities conducted virtually,
    including the Children’s meeting, the side events by partners as well as the main sitting prior to the
    39th sitting of the ACERWC. The 21st Ordinary session is scheduled to take place on the 20th to 22nd
    November in Maseru, Lesotho, under the theme, “Promoting and Protecting Children’s Rights in
    the Digital Environment: gains, opportunities and risks”
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    The digital environment is dynamic, constantly evolving and expanding. The digital environment
    encompasses information and communications technologies, including digital networks, content,
    services and applications, connected devices and environments, virtual and augmented reality,
    artificial intelligence, robotics, automated systems, algorithms and data analytics, biometrics and
    implant technology. The digital environment is becoming increasingly important across most aspects
    of children’s lives, such as in times of crisis, societal functions, educational sphere, government
    services and commerce, and have progressively come to rely upon digital technologies. It affords new
    opportunities for the realization of children’s rights, but also poses the risks of their violation or abuse1.
    The rights of every child must be respected, protected, and fulfilled in the digital environment.
    Innovations in digital technologies affect children’s lives and their rights in ways that are wide-ranging
    and interdependent, even where children do not themselves access the Internet. Meaningful access
    to digital technologies can support children to realize the full range of their civil, political, cultural,
    economic, and social rights.
    Although access to the internet has repeatedly been recognized as a human right, children that are
    online today are typically viewed as the privileged ones. They are the ones whose parents or guardians
    can afford devices and data that allow them to access the internet. Such children could continue their
    schooling at a time when COVID-19 closed many a school or alternative access points to education.
    However, even with access to technology, the pandemic has interrupted education and curtailed
    various opportunities for learning. This is at least partly why safeguarding children’s digital futures is
    becoming increasingly important. In a world where everything is increasingly moving online, where
    everything from dolls to dice are being digitized; children can scarcely afford to lack access, the skills
    and capacities needed to benefit from the opportunities that technologies may proffer for their
    The Internet exposes children to a wealth of opportunities, but also risks that may have a detrimental
    impact on their human rights. Some of these risks include cyberbullying, data protection issues, online
    grooming, cybercrimes and online child sexual abuse.
    1 UN Child Rights Committee – General Comment 25: “Our rights in a digital world”.
    2 South Africa: How do we protect children’s rights in a digital environment only available to some. Anri Van Der
    Spuy (2021).
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    In view of the above, the 21st CSO Forum will dedicate time to explore and discuss children’s rights in
    the digital environment, and ways to promote and protect children’s rights in the digital environment,
    with specific focus on the gains, opportunities, and risks of the digital environment on the rights and
    welfare of the child. The Forum will start with a children’s session, affording children the opportunity
    to share their lived experiences of the digital environment -the good, the bad and how it affects them.
    Further to this, both the sessions, notably children and the adults’ session will generate concrete
    recommendations that will form the core of the 21st CSO Forum’s Ordinary Session Outcome
    The 21st CSO Forum will be guided by the following key objectives.
    3.1 To share information and knowledge on children’s rights and the digital environment
    3.2 To share knowledge on how to promote and protect children’s rights in the digital environment.
    3.3 To explore ways and means to build a safe, secure, and inclusive digital environment for all
    3.4 To generate concrete recommendations on how member states should invest on safe and secure
    universal access to online platforms.
    3.5 To strengthen and build the institutional capacity of regional child rights networks for
    organizational efficiency and delivery of evidence-based advocacy agenda around children’s rights
    and the digital space.
    3.6 To facilitate horizontal learning and sharing on critical child rights issues broadly and strengthen
    CSOs and children’s interventions, such as early childhood development (ECD) through the partner
    – led side events.
    The scope of the 21st CSO Forum’s Ordinary Session includes three main components which include
    i) the General Assembly as per the prescription of the constitution, ii) Side events as per the CSO
    Forum’s strategic partnership management and iii) capacity building in accordance with the CSO
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    Forum’s Strategy Plan. Table 4.1 presents the summarized scope of the CSO Forum over the scheduled
    three (3) days.
    Table 4.1: Summarized Scope of the 21st CSO Forum’ Ordinary Session
    Timeline Focus Areas Lead Person(s)
    Day 0: 12th Nov Online Children’s Session (Lived experiences of the digital
    Day 1: 20th Nov Official Opening, Solidarity remarks and Side events Secretariat
    Day 2: 21st Nov Capacity Building Sessions with Specific focus on;
    i) Evidence driven decision-making, ii) Network building and
    Management, ii) Good Governance & Effective Leadership, and iv)
    Resource Mobilisation and Sustainability
    Partners & Key
    Day 3: 22nd Nov CSO Forum’s General Assembly (i.e., Internal Organizational
    Proceedings, Reporting, Accountability & Strategic Direction)
    The 21st CSO Forum’s Ordinary session will employ combined approaches, notably plenary and parallel
    sessions to stimulate active participation, discussions, engagements, and interactions. The plenary
    sessions will be used mainly during the official opening, solidarity remarks and part of the capacity
    building session particularly for cross cutting themes or topics. In view of varying interests, the side
    events and part of the capacity building sessions will use parallel sessions. During the parallel
    sessions, the CSO Forum Secretariat will ensure that delegates from Regional Child Rights networks
    spread themselves evenly across various parallel sessions and side events to capitalise on these
    unique opportunities provided by the 21st CSO Forum’s Ordinary Session. As a guiding principle, all
    the sessions will provide sufficient time for questions, discussions, and where applicable concrete
    recommendations and/or next practical steps. The CSO Forum will secure the services of a Rapporteur
    who will work with the Secretariat to record and report on the proceedings of the 21st CSO Forum.
    Furthermore; the proceedings of the Forum will be live streamed on social media for visibility and
    utilisation of the digital platform.
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    The 21st CSO Forum’s Ordinary Session is targeting a total number of 100 delegates drawn from
    representatives of ACERWC, representatives from the 5 Regional Child Rights Networks, policy and
    decision – makers, child rights activists, CSOs, children, development partners, United Nations, media
    houses and the private sector within the digital space.