Child safety online

Updates

UK’s Digital Secretary Matt Hancock has announced new plans to create regulation to ensure that ‘the UK is the safest place in the world to be online’. According to the British government, there is a lack of sufficient oversight or transparency for technology companies, resulting in inappropriate and harmful content online, ranging from cyberbullying and intimidation to online child sexual exploitation and extremist material. While working closely with industry, the government will work on a white paper, to be published later this year, which will draft legislation against digital harms. The move is part of the UK’s Internet Safety Strategy.

After its approval by the US House of Representatives, a controversial online sex trafficking bill has now been approved by the US Senate. The bill is seen by many an important step in fighting online prostitution of teenagers. At the same time, the bill has become a controversial topic of discussion, as it will hold Internet companies liable for the content on their platforms. Some Internet freedom organisations even claim that the bill will lead to censorship; ‘silencing Internet users doesn’t make us safer’, and others argue that the passing of the bill constitutes ‘a major legislative loss for Silicon Valley’.

Beh Lih Yi of the Thomson Reuters Foundation reports on a study partnered by Interpol and ECPAT International that shows boys are more likely than girls to suffer the worst online sexual abuse. According to Yi, 'Although girls account for two-thirds of the victims, the latest study said online images or videos depicting boys, including very young children, often involve more severe abuse, such as sadism and other forms of sexual assault.' In its announcement of the study, Interpol highlighted the high percentage of prepubescent victims; the high priority of identifying offenders; the high proportion of material which was both abusive and exploitative; the challenge of determining core characteristics of victims; and the roles of women and youth among other important points.

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Children’s use of the Internet and mobile technology is increasing, and for many children worldwide there is no clear distinction between the online and offline world. Access to the Internet presents many opportunities for their education, personal development, self-expression, and interaction with others. Yet, the increasingly complex online environment also presents risks for child safety online. Children are especially vulnerable to risks, which include inappropriate content, harmful interactions, commercial issues, and overuse.

When it comes to promoting the benefits of technology for children while at the same time fostering a safe and secure online environment, stakeholders need to strike a careful balance between the need to safeguard children, and the need to respect children’s digital rights. The sections below tackle the security aspect of children’s use of the Internet. Children’s digital rights are tackled from a human rights perspective.

 

Understanding how children use technology and the Internet is crucial for informing policy and initiatives related to children’s online safety. The environment evolves quickly, and is constantly producing new technology that has a significant impact on the lives of children and their safety. Although there is no single blueprint that can universally apply to protecting children online, their attitudes and use of technology and the Internet informs the policy–making processes and mobilises stakeholders to act.

Child safety online: Risks for children and young people

Despite the many benefits of the Internet, children and young people face certain online risks when using the Internet and technology. While users of any age can face risks, children are particularly vulnerable, as they are still in the process of development.

Various classifications of risks have been put forward in studies. They can be synthesised as:

  • inappropriate content, including age-inappropriate content (such as language, violence, sexual content, dating sites, and pro-anorexia sites), and illegal content;
  • inappropriate contact, including being bullied, being a bully, grooming, and harassment;
  • reputational damage and digital footprint: sexting, sharing/sending inappropriate pictures and comments;
  • commercial issues, including spam, hidden costs (such as in-app purchases) and inappropriate advertising (see Figure 4 for examples of commercial practices embedded in apps);
  • overuse, which can interfere with study and sleep.

Online child sexual abuse and exploitation

While the issue of child sexual abuse is not new, the Internet has exacerbated the problem. One of the main reasons is that it provides an easy means of accessing and consuming child sexual abuse content, and of making contact with vulnerable young people.

Some of the sources of online risks for children may result in sexual violence of one kind or another. Children may receive illegal content, such as child sexual abuse images. They can be exposed to predators, leading to grooming and online and/or offline abuse or exploitation. Children can also become perpetrators of illegal activity with a sexually violent component, such as being persuaded to create and share sexual images of themselves, which may then be used to harass or threaten the victim. When content depicting a child being sexually abused is discovered online, there are two clear priorities: to remove the content from public view, and to find the victim of abuse. The victim can then be removed from harm and offered the appropriate support.

Addressing the challenges of child safety online

There is no single solution to mitigate the risks children face using the Internet. Rather, a combination approach can be used to tackle the risks in a broad way. Such an approach combines policy – including legislation, self- and co-regulation – and other measures aimed at creating an appropriate digital environment. It includes also the use of technical tools; and education and awareness. The issues need to be tackled at both national and global level.

The combination approach requires the involvement of all stakeholders. Parents and educators have a responsibility to guide and support children, especially younger children, to use services that promote positive behaviours. They play an important role in education and awareness, which is considered an important first line of defence in mitigating the risks.

Governments and the industry have the responsibility to ensure that the online environment is safe and secure. Service providers can play a key role in creating such an environment, and many tools can be used to this effect. Such tools include filters and reporting mechanisms. The industry favours self- and co-regulation, which has been found to be an effective approach. In addition, it is increasingly recognised that the industry can promote digital citizenship among children and develop products and platforms to help children benefit from ICTs.

Combatting online child sexual abuse and exploitation also requires a concerted effort. This includes appropriate legislation, the work of law enforcement agencies equipped to deal with investigations, technical measures, and education.

These measures on their own are only part of a solution, and must be provided in combination with other measures to achieve the aim of safeguarding children online. Thus, all stakeholders have a responsibility for child safety online, and to protect and fulfil children’s rights.

Events

Actors

(UNHRC)

Privacy and data protection online has been the subject of many UNHRC resolutions.

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Privacy and data protection online has been the subject of many UNHRC resolutions. General resolutions on the promotion and protection of human rights on the Internet have underlined the need for states ensure a balance between cybersecurity measures and the protection of privacy online. The Council has also adopted specific resolutions on the right to privacy in the digital age, emphasising the fact that individuals should not be subjected to arbitrary of unlawful interference with their privacy, either online or offline. The UNHRC has also mandated the Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy to address the issue of online privacy in his reports.

(ITU, UIT)
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The ITU Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T) develops international standards (called recommendations) covering information and communications technologies. Standards are developed on a consensus-based approach, by study groups composed of representatives of ITU members (both member states and companies). These groups focus on a wide range of topics: operational issues, economic and policy issues, broadband networks, Internet protocol based networks, future networks and cloud computing, multimedia, security, the Internet of Things and smart cities, and performance and quality of service. The World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly (WTSA), held every four years, defines the next period of study for the ITU-T.

(UNICEF)

UNICEF launched the End Violence Against

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UNICEF launched the End Violence Against Children initiative with a strand focusing on online threats: #ENDviolence online. Under this initiative, it kicked off the #ReplyforAll campaign which advocates for safer Internet for everyone through organising awareness raising activities for children and adolescents and encouraging them to share their inputs on how to respond to online threats. UNICEF is also a partner of the International Telecommunication Union’s Child Online Protection initiative. Additionally, UNICEF produced facts and figures on the Perils and Possibilities: Growing up online. Some of its research focuses on Child Safety Online: Global Challenges and Strategies and ICTs, the Internet and Violence against Children.

(Childnet International)

Childnet’s activities are dedicated to promoting child safety online.

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Childnet’s activities are dedicated to promoting child safety online. The organisation runs various projects, at national and international level, dedicated to empowering children and young people to use the Internet safely. Examples of such initiatives include the Digital Leaders Programme (designed to assist schools in empowering children to use digital technologies safely and positively), the Film Competition (challenging children to create short films about Internet safety), and Project deSHAME (focused on tackling peer-based online sexual exploitation). Childnet also offers children, parents, and teachers and professionals a wide variety of online resources and activities in the area of Internet safety.

(WePROTECT)

The Alliance has developed a c

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The Alliance has developed a comprehensive strategy on ending the sexual exploitation of children online, which outlines the organisation’s commitment to contribute to achieving the vision of more victims of child sexual abuse identified and safeguarded, and more perpetrators apprehended. At national level, the Alliance encourages governments to adopt the WePROTECT Model National Response to Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse. At international level, it develops and implements initiatives aimed at sharing best practices and developing new tools and techniques to end online child sexual exploitation. The Alliance also works together with the UNICEF-administered Fund to End Violence against Children, and with other international partners.

(CoE)

The Council of Europe has been actively involved in policy discussions on the issue of net neutrality.

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The Council of Europe has been actively involved in policy discussions on the issue of net neutrality. In 2010, the Committee of Ministers adopted a Declaration on network neutrality declaring its commitment to the principle of net neutrality. Later on, and in line with the Council’s Internet Governance Strategy, the Committee adopted a Recommendation on protecting and promoting the right to freedom of expression and the right to private life with regard to network neutrality, calling on member states to safeguard net neutrality in legal frameworks. Issues related to net neutrality and its connections with human rights are also tackled in events organised and studies conducted by the Council.

Instruments

Conventions

Directive 2011/92/EU on combating the sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children and child pornography (2011)
Convention on Cybercrime (Budapest Convention) (2001)
Link to: Convention on Cybercrime (Budapest Convention) | Article 9 – Offences related to child pornography (2001)

Resolutions & Declarations

Recommendations

Terminology Guidelines for the protection of children from sexual exploitation and sexual abuse (2016)

Other Instruments

Resources

Articles

The Impact of Internet Content Regulation (2002)

Multimedia

Child Safety: A User-Centred Approach to Internet Governance (2nd edition) (2010)

Publications

Internet Governance Acronym Glossary (2015)
An Introduction to Internet Governance (2014)

Reports

Freedom on the Net 2015 (2015)
A Survey on the Transposition of Directive 2011/93/EU on Combating Sexual Abuse and Sexual Exploitation of Child and Child Pornography (2015)
Best Practice Forum on Online Child Protection (2014)
INHOPE Annual Report 2013-2014 (2014)
Confronting New Challenges in the Fight Against Child Pornography (2013)

Conference proceedings

High-Level Round-Table Meeting: Implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals relating to Ending Violence against Children in South Asia (2016)

GIP event reports

EBU Big Data Conference: The discussions during Day 2 (2018)
Safer Internet for Children, Mitigation of Conflicts and Language and Communication for Peace (2017)

Other resources

The Twitter Rules (2016)

Processes

Session reports

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WSIS Forum 2018

12th IGF 2017

WSIS Forum 2017

IGF 2016

WSIS Forum 2016

WSIS10HL

IGF 2015

 

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