On 24 March 2021, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child officially launched their new General Comment No. 25 on Children’s rights in relation to the digital environment. The adoption of this General Comment signals the first time that children’s digital experiences are mentioned within the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and marks a historic moment for all those working to protect children on the internet.
A landmark moment for children’s rights
During its 86th session, the Committee adopted the General Comment No. 25 on children’s rights in relation to the digital environment. This represents a landmark moment because it is the first international authoritative legal document recognizing explicitly that children’s rights apply both offline and online (OHCHR, 2021).
The General Comment is an important document that will facilitate and guide the interpretation of certain articles of the CRC and in this specific case will update the interpretation of the CRC with respect to internet and technology developments. This document comes at an unprecedented and pivotal moment as the coronavirus pandemic has, and continues to, threaten child rights, and heavily exacerbate children’s presence online while worldwide educational, leisure, social, political and professional activities undergo massive relocation to the virtual sphere.
Children’s rights in the digital world after GC No.25
The objective of the General Comment is to explain how States Parties should implement the Convention on the Right of the Child in relation to the digital environment and to provide guidance on relevant legislation, policy and other measures designed to ensure full compliance with their obligations under the Convention. In particular, it explains what the digital environment means for children’s civil rights and freedoms, including rights to privacy, non-discrimination, protection, education, play, and more (The Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children, 2021).
The new Commentary is the result of a reworking of state reports, case law and child consultation, which included participatory workshops with 709 children living in urban and rural areas in 28 countries. Children from minority groups, with disabilities, migrants or refugees, in street situations, in the juvenile justice system, from low-socio-economic communities and in other vulnerable circumstances were consulted and had a decisive role in the drafting of the final text (5 Rights Foundation, 2021).
General Comment No. 25 not only raises awareness of the risks children face online, but also places responsibility on states and businesses to take action to address those risks (Doughty Street Chambers, 2021). General Comment 25 will in fact be recognized as an explicit obligation on the part of the majority of signatory countries and for which they are held accountable by the UN, in particular in the Committee on the Rights of the Child.
Obligations of the States Parties as defined by the GC
Indeed, the document encourages states to disseminate information and conduct awareness campaigns on children’s rights in the digital environment, and facilitate educational programs for children, parents, caregivers, the public, and policymakers to improve their knowledge of children’s rights in relation to the opportunities and risks associated with digital products and services.
States Parties have also an obligation to ensure that businesses comply with these responsibilities; indeed, states are the primary duty bearer in ensuring that the provisions of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child are adhered to, including the periodic reporting process to the Committee on how the obligations have been met. More generally, States are obliged to ensure that all entities whose activities impact children within their jurisdiction meet their responsibilities regarding children’s rights.
In fact, businesses, which affect children’s rights directly and indirectly in the provision of services and products related to the digital environment, should respect children’s rights and prevent abuses of children’s rights in relation to the digital environment. Specifically, with respect to advertising and marketing, the General Comment says that States Parties should prohibit by law the profiling or targeting of children of any age for commercial purposes on the basis of a digital record of their actual or inferred characteristics, including group or collective data, targeting by association, or profiling by affinity (Alliance for Childhood, 2021).
In fact, practices that rely on neuro-marketing, emotional analysis, immersive advertising, and advertising in virtual environments to promote products, apps, and services should also be prohibited from engaging directly or indirectly with children. Overall, this is a wide-ranging and articulated document, which is particularly relevant during this time of a pandemic characterized by smart working, distance learning and massive use of technological devices to ensure services and relationships.
Humanium’s commitment to children’s rights in the digital environment
The General Comment points out the importance of collaboration with civil societies in the development, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of laws, policies, plans and programs related to children’s rights. In fact, in March 2019, the Committee invited all interested parties to comment on the concept note of the General Comment, and received 136 submissions on the concept note.
Humanium submitted a proposal for the General Comment No. 25, in response to the abovementioned UN’s call for NGOs participation in drafting the General Comment on children’s rights in relation to the digital environment because it shares a vision of how children’s rights can and should be implemented and monitored in the digital world.
Humanium’s submission has provided strong support to the Committee on the Rights of the Child and has targeted key stakeholders to acknowledge the importance of child rights in the digital environments. In particular, Humanium’s proposal reaffirmed the foundational principles of children’s rights, including their right to protection from abuse, exploitation and other forms of violence on the internet, taking always the best interest of the child as the guiding star.
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Written by Federica Versea
For more information:
Doughty Street Chambers. (2021). General Comment 25 on children’s rights in relation to the digital environment now addended to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Taken from Doughty Street Chambers.