Protecting Children's Privacy During a Pandemic

Updated: Jul 24, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has made a noticeable impact on the global community. The

implementation of regulations across the globe, restricting movements have led to schools

continuing the academic year on e-learning platforms and other forms of online communication. This raises questions on the protection, use, and accessibility of children's personal data

when accessing these e-learning platforms. This has led to scrutiny of legislation that has been

implemented to ensure that children are protected online. This article will look at the protection of children's privacy during the COVID-19 pandemic in South Africa.

Under section 17 of the Children’s Act, 2005 the age of majority is 18 years old. Consequently, a person who is younger than 18 cannot enter into any contract without parental consent. This includes the terms and conditions for apps and online platforms. The sole exception to this rule is where the contract confers only rights and no responsibilities on the child. However, because of the manner in which personal data is used, especially by internet-based platforms, there is need to specifically provide for processing of personal data. In addition to the protection provided in the Children’s Act, South Africa has laws which govern the processing of personal data.

The Protection of Personal Information Act, 2013 (POPIA) was promulgated to promote and protect individuals' personal data when processed by both public and private entities. Section 34 of the POPIA prohibits the processing of children’s personal information, subject to section 35, which provides for exceptions where children’s personal data may be processed. An exception is that the processing of a child’s personal data must be carried out with the prior consent of a competent person, that person being a parent or legal guardian. In practice, before children can access e-learning platforms, parent’s or legal guardian’s permission is required. That means that a parent or legal guardian will be required to formally consent to the processing of the child’s personal data, ensuring that the organisations collecting and processing the personal data from children is collected, processed and stored lawfully, in an accountable and transparent manner.

Another Act which is applicable is the Films and Publications Act, 1996 which will govern the use of images that children share. Children have been tracked by predators through posted images on GPS enabled devices. Images of children have been used on websites for advertisement and without parental consent. Telecommunications and technology companies have sold data to companies too, so the POPIA is essential. The promulgation of laws on use of the internet is a step in the right direction to ensure that children are shielded from volatile content that could potentially harm children. It will also curb the potential for emotional abuse of children by giving consequences to use of violent language online.

Finally, parents are advised to discuss online safety with their children and must monitor use of

technological devices such as mobile phones, tablets and other devices. Teachers must also be trained to decipher which online learning platforms are safe for use. Schools should also find ways to embed online safety and critical thinking in the curriculum to give children basic guidelines on responsible online behaviour.

Ntokozo Mazibuko believes that the narrative about Africa can be changed and that everyone deserves the opportunity to live life with daring passion. Ntokozo served as an executive member of Model United Nations and is currently an Academic Research Tutor and campus radio presenter. Ntokozo is currently concluding her BSocSci double major degree in Sociology and International Studies at Monash University and will study Law after.