Children are avid users of the Internet and mobile technology today. This trend is increasing and for many children there is no clear distinction between the online and offline world. While access to the Internet presents many opportunities for them to gain knowledge, help them in their education, personal development, self-expression, and interaction with others, yet, the online environment also presents risks to which children are especially vulnerable, such as access to inappropriate content, harmful interactions, online sexual abuse and exploitation, reputation damage including abuse of their rights, 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 against inappropriate content and risky behaviour, and the need to respect children’s digital rights, including the right to access information and freedom of speech.
Child online protection tends to focus on the protective aspect of children's use of technology. In fact, many argue that the Internet and technology have increased the risks for children, and therefore, children can only reap the benefits, if the risks are mitigated. However, policies which focus exclusively on online risks can sideline the Internet's potential to empower children.
The UN General Assembly and UN Human Rights Council resolution affirmation that ‘the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online’ Resolution A/HRC/26/L.24 is equally applicable for protecting children’s rights online. However, as they are vulnerable special steps need to be taken to protect their rights.
A rights-based approach, based on children’s rights as enshrined in legal instruments such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), aims at maximising the opportunities of the digital world for children and young people while protecting them from risks. The Convention, proposes promoting content which is of social and cultural benefit to children’s well-being; providing children the rights to recreation, leisure, freedom of expression and association, and to be consulted on matters affecting them; and protecting children against abuse, neglect and exploitation, interference, and attacks on their honour and reputation.