On 4 February 2021, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (Committee), adopted its new General Comment 25 on the rights of children in relation to the digital environment. The CRC concluded that children’s rights are to be respected, protected and fulfilled both on and offline.
General Comments are key documents developed to provide guidance on how international treaties and protocols should be interpreted and implemented by States. General Comments published by the Committee guide States as they interpret and implement the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The recently adopted General Comment was developed to provide an overview of how the Convention on the Rights of the Child in its entirety needs to be understood and implemented in relation to the digital environment. Essentially, it seeks to provide guidance on the realisation of children’s rights online. It tackles issues ranging from industry codes and design standards, to digital literacy, data protection, technological infrastructure in schools, and children’s online safety.
Notably, when drafting this General Comment, the Committee conducted consultations with children from around the world who shared their experiences, their opinions and their hopes for a safer and more inclusive internet. In acknowledging the important role of children’s participation the General Comment begins by sharing some the children’s views:
“Children in diverse contexts see digital technology as critical to their current lives, and the future. They find benefits of using digital technology: “I express [online] what I see as important through my eyes in the world”; “I need technology for school and for fun”; “When you are sad, the internet can help you see something that brings you joy”. Children also call for action to support, promote and protect their safe engagement with these technologies: “I would like the government, technology companies and teachers to help us manage untrustworthy information online”; “I want [my parents] to ask permission before they upload a photo of me”; “I want to know more about what specific companies are using my data”.
This General Comment is likely to have a positive impact on children’s digital rights, with the hope that it will be reflected at regional and domestic levels. Sonia Livingstone, LSE Professor and expert on children’s rights in the digital age, explains:
“This is an exciting opportunity to make real the claim that rights apply online as offline, and it has been long in the making. In relation to the digital environment, it’s a game changer. The General Comment will land on the desk of every government in the world. It clarifies what the digital environment means for children’s civil rights and freedoms, their rights to privacy, non-discrimination, protection, education, play and more. It also explains why States and other duty bearers must act and, within the limits of 10,700 words, how they should act.”
The General Comment 25 can be accessed here.
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