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Child Protection and Children’s Rights in the Digital World

Since the enactment of the UN-Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989, our world has changed in manifold ways - and with it the living environment of children. It is therefore important to take a closer look at the guidelines with regard to the change in society due to digitisation.

A consistent understanding of the terms “child” and “digital world” is required for analysing the implications of digitisation on the living environment of children.

According to the UN-Convention on the Rights of the Child, a child means any person under the age of 18 years old. We understand the term digital environment as more than just the internet. It encompasses the interaction of an evolving offer of connected digital services (content, software and applications) from commercial, public and other providers. This includes all computing and digitally networked technologies and services, often referred to as ICTs, the Internet, the World Wide Web, mobile devices and networks, online, “apps”, social media platforms, electronic databases, ‘big data,’ ‘Internet of Things’, ‘information society services’, the media environment, online gaming, and any developments resulting in access to or services for digital environment.

In consideration of the digitisation of children’s living environment, we focus on the following six areas of rights: Access, Freedom of Expression and Information, Assembly and Association, Participation and Play, Privacy and Data Protection, Education and Digital Literacy, Protection and Safety - taking into account international Human Rights Conventions, like the UN-Convention on the Rights of the Child and the European Convention on Human Rights.

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    The right to non-discrimination requires that all children have equal and effective access to the digital environment in ways that are meaningful for them.

    Therefore, all measures necessary to overcome digital exclusion must be taken. That includes providing free and safe access for children in dedicated public locations and investing in policies and programs that support all children’s affordable access to, and knowledgeable use of, digital technologies in educational settings, communities and homes.

  • Best interests of the child

    The digital environment was not originally designed for children, yet it plays a significant role in children’s lives.

    The dynamic concept of the best interests of the child must be understood appropriate to this specific context.

    In all actions regarding the provision, regulation, design, management and use of the digital environment, the best interests of every child is a primary consideration.

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    Right to Life

    Opportunities provided by the digital environment play an increasingly crucial role in children’s development and may be vital for children’s life and survival, especially in situations of crisis.

    Therefore children need to be protected from risks to their right to life, survival and development by all appropriate measures.

    Risks relating to content, contact, conduct and contract encompass, among other things, violent and sexual content, cyberaggression and harassment, gambling, exploitation and abuse, including sexual exploitation and abuse, and the promotion of or incitement to suicide or life-threatening activities, including by criminals or armed groups designated as terrorist or violent extremist.

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    Respect for the views of the child

    Children reported that the digital environment afforded them crucial opportunities for their voices to be heard in matters that affected them.

    The use of digital technologies can help to realize children’s participation at the local, national and international levels.

    Therefore, awareness of, and access to, digital means for children to express their views must be promoted and support for children must be offered.

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    Evolving capacities

    The evolving capacities of the child as an enabling principle that addresses the process of their gradual acquisition of competencies, understanding and agency must be respected.

    That process has particular significance in the digital environment, where children can engage more independently from supervision by parents and caregivers.

    The risks and opportunities associated with children’s engagement in the digital environment change depending on their age and stage of development.

    This must be taken in considerations whenever measures to protect children in, or facilitate their access to, that environment are designed. The design of age-appropriate measures should be informed by the best and most up-to-date research available, from a range of disciplines.

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    Civil rights and freedoms

    The digital environment provides unique opportunities for children to realize the right to access to information and freedom of expression. The digital environment can enable children to form their social, religious, cultural, ethnic, sexual and political identities and to participate in associated communities and in public spaces for deliberation, cultural exchange, social cohesion and diversity.

    The fulfilment of these rights must be ensured and the right of the child to freedom of thought, conscience and religion in the digital environment must be respected. Privacy is vital to children’s agency, dignity and safety and for the exercise of their rights.

    Children’s personal data are processed to offer educational, health and other benefits to them. Therefore, it must be ensured by legislative, administrative and other measures that children’s privacy is respected and protected by all organizations and in all environments that process their data.

    By use of digital identification systems that enable all newborn children to have their birth registered and officially recognized by the national authorities, access to services, including health, education and welfare shall be facilitated.

  • Draft European Regulation on combating child sexual abuse on the Internet

    Violence against children

    The digital environment may open up new ways to perpetrate violence against children, by facilitating situations in which children experience violence and/or may be influenced to do harm to themselves or others.

    Crises, such as pandemics, may lead to an increased risk of harm online, given that children spend more time on virtual platforms in those circumstances.

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    Family environment and alternative care

    Many parents and caregivers require support to develop the technological understanding, capacity and skills necessary to assist children in relation to the digital environment.

    It must be ensured that parents and caregivers have opportunities to gain digital literacy, to learn how technology can support the rights of children and to recognize a child who is a victim of online harm and respond appropriately.

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    Children with disabilities

    The digital environment opens new avenues for children with disabilities to engage in social relationships with their peers, access information and participate in public decision-making processes.

    Therefore it is necessary to take steps to prevent the creation of new barriers and to remove existing barriers faced by children with disabilities in relation to the digital environment.

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    Health and welfare

    Digital technologies can facilitate access to health services and information and improve diagnostic and treatment services for maternal, newborn, child and adolescent physical and mental health and nutrition.

    They also offer significant opportunities for reaching children in disadvantaged or vulnerable situations or in remote communities.

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    Education, leisure and cultural activities

    The digital environment can greatly enable and enhance children’s access to high-quality inclusive education, including reliable resources for formal, non-formal, informal, peer-to-peer and self-directed learning. Use of digital technologies can also strengthen engagement between the teacher and student and between learners.

    The digital environment promotes children’s right to culture, leisure and play, which is essential for their well-being and development. Children of all ages report that they experienced pleasure, interest and relaxation through engaging with a wide range of digital products and services of their choice.

  • Special protection

    Children should be protected from all forms of exploitation prejudicial to any aspects of their welfare in relation to the digital environment.Exploitation may occur in many forms, such as economic exploitation, including child labour, sexual exploitation and abuse, the sale, trafficking and abduction of children and the recruitment of children to participate in criminal activities, including forms of cybercrime.

    By creating and sharing content, children may be economic actors in the digital environment, which may result in their exploitation.