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  • Published 30.11.22

    Help me if you can … Resilience in the focus of Day 1 at IGF 2022

    Jutta Croll, SDC

    Day 1 of the Internet Governance Forum started with a networking session on helplines working with communities. It turned out there is great interest from civil society organizations and governments on the African continent to engage in child online protection. For example it was reported, Rwanda has adopted a law on child online safety. Representatives from several other African countries and also from India joined the debate how best to protect children online.

    Opening Ceremony: Resilient Internet for a shared sustainable and common future

    This year’s key themes are focused on the UN Secretary-General’s proposed Digital Compact. Those five themes are:

    • Connecting all people and safeguarding human rights
    • Avoiding Internet fragmentation
    • Governing data and protecting privacy
    • Enabling safety, security and accountability
    • Addressing advanced technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI)

    Speakers in the opening Ceremony of IGF 2022 referred to the 2.7 billion people still left offline and encouraged participants in the IGF to find solutions for creating a human-centered and resilient digital future. Especially Lily Edinam Botsyoe, representing the global youth, called upon the IGF community to close the digital gap and create the conditions for meaningful participation. She regards cooperation for a secure, open and robust Internet as necessary and she claimed “Young people are ready to get involved”. This was echoed by Vint Cerf, so-called father of the Internet, who referred to the Herculean task of achieving safety, security, privacy, utility, accessibility, operational sustainability, adaptability etc., but, he said: “It’s time to take concrete steps, let’s roll-up our sleeves and get to work.”

    On behalf of UNESCO Mr. Tawfik Jelassi, Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information, demanded a regulatory framework and cautioned not to take regulation for censorship.

    Safety and security were also in the focus of WS #523 Youthful approach at data protection in messaging apps. Special attention was given to quantum computing which will have a massive impact on how users’ data disclosed in messaging apps can by analysed and used either for their benefit or detrimental.

    Another issue of safety was discussed in WS #70 Fighting the creators and spreaders of untruths online. Julie Inman Grant, Australia’s eSafety Commissioner asked for a safer product design, algorithmic transparency, and the development of critical thinking skills to counteract the spreading of untruths. Rehobot Ayalew, who is working as a professional fact checker in Ethiopia explained how difficult it is to check what is true and what is false in a country where there exist 80 different languages, with content even in the five main languages being difficult to oversee. The mental health of the fact checkers was also very important to her.

    Later in the afternoon WS #183 Digital Wellbeing of Youth: Selfgenerated sexualised content was held, organized by the German Children’s Fund (Deutsches Kinderhilfswerk) and the German Digital Opportunities Foundation (Stiftung Digitale Chancen). Speakers in the session dealt with the following questions:

    • What does “self-generated” mean?
    • Which answers does legislation provide?
    • Which answers do further national policies and transnational strategies provide?
    • How can Internet Governance support a common approach in respect of different political systems and cultural backgrounds?

    After a lively debate with participants in the room and online the session was concluded with the following key messages:

    • Since usually legislation refers to consensuality in order to differentiate images of abuse and sexual violence from usual behaviour in adolesence, a common definition of what "consensual" means is necessary, taking into account cultural differences.
    • General Comment 25 on the rights of children in the digital environment provides for a framework to address the issue of sexualised content, that needs to be translated into national legislation and transnational measures.

    The session organisers called to action as follows:

    • In order to address the issues properly, consider the wording in regard to self-generated sexualised content, the definition of "consensual" and the wording in regard of sexual abuse, sexual exploitation and sexualised violence.
    • Make the voices of young people heard in alle matters that affect them and give the views of the child due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child. Take into account that sexual orientation and the formation of one's own sexual identity is a developmental task in adolescence.

  • Published 29.11.22

    Give Way for Children’s Rights: The Internet Governance Forum 2022 started on November 28th, in Addis Ababa

    Jutta Croll, SDC

    One of the early events on the so-called Day Zero was “#35 Harass me not”. Participants were informed on gender-based violence on the Internet in various countries and respective countermeasures. There is legislation in many countries addressing the issue, f. e. Indonesia has just adopted a new cyber law including a paragraph on gender-based violence. But it was said, what is lacking in most countries is the implementation of the law in practice.

    The then following Global Youth Summit prominently featured on Day Zero and was well attended by youths from around the globe.

    Barrack Otieno from the Kenyan government stressed how important it is to have the voice of the youths at the table of Internet Governance with this global youth summit, and not only on the menu as it had been before. He referred to 1.2 billion young people globally und encouraged them to “take the power, not to wait for it being given to them”.

    This recommendation is truly in line with Art. 12 of the UN-CRC “(1) States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.” No doubt the digital environment is “a matter affecting children”.

    Speakers also referred to the need to give access to the digital environment to every child no matter where they are living, which is in line with the General Comment No. 25, A. Non-discrimination, para 9 “The right to non-discrimination requires that States parties ensure that all children have equal and effective access to the digital environment in ways that are meaningful for them.“ State parties should oblige service providers to connect rural areas on the African continent and elsewhere, even though there might not be immediate return of investment.

    Internet shutdowns are also a huge concern of young people highlighted by a guy from Tschad who asked: “How can young people achieve to address their national governments to not shutdown Internet, claiming they have a right to access?” In response Emmanuel from Togo suggested to engage with policy makers, like it is possible in the parliamentarians’ track at the IGF. Young people should vote for good laws and start to test these laws and then celebrate all the small victories achieved.

    Eventually in her closing speech H.E. Ms. Huria Ali Mahdi, State Minister, Ministry of Innovation and Technology, Ethiopia underlined: “If the voice of youth is not heard it’s not only that we lose their perspective it will also destroy the future of our country.”

    Further session on the topic of "Growing up in a digital environment" can be found in this focus article.

  • Published 14.11.22

    Open letter to the European Union

    On November 18, the European Day on the protection of children against sexual exploitation and sexual abuse, the EU CSA Legislation Advocacy Group circulates a new joint letter signed by civil society organisations to call on EU policy-makers to make the internet a safe place for children and to concentrate on effective measures based on the European Commission’s proposal to prevent and combat child sexual abuse.

    Civil Society and Child Rights Organisations Call to Action: We must make the Internet a Safe Place for Children

    November 18, 2022 - European Day on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse

    Every child should have the chance to be safe, curious, and happy - to simply be a kid. Unfortunately, the reality of childhood is very different for a growing number of children who experience sexual abuse and exploitation. Recent surveys show that more than half of children, both boys and girls, experience sexual harms online during childhood. This includes being sent sexually explicit content from an adult or unknown persons, being asked to keep part of their sexually explicit online relationship a secret, having sexually explicit images of them shared without their consent or being asked to do something sexually explicit online they were uncomfortable with. In extreme cases, grooming for child sexual exploitation may lead to child disappearances.

    The horrors of abuse are cruel enough - but as the internet has evolved and grown, so has the viral spread of child sexual abuse materials - the evidence of that abuse: 85 million of images and videos were reported globally in 2021 - with Europe hosting over 62 % of this material. This sharing and resharing revictimizes these children over and over.

    This proliferation of abuse materials makes it hard for those children to live normal and healthy lives. In a survey conducted in 2017, nearly 70 % of respondents indicated they worry constantly about being recognised by someone who has seen images of their abuse, 83 had suicidal ideation, 60 % attempted suicide.

    The spread of child sexual abuse material is not the only harm that our children experience as a result of their abuse. For example, chat functions allow perpetrators to groom children online, either to meet in real life or to solicit sexually explicit imagery from them and extort them with it afterwards to continuously provide more. And livestream technology is used to stream the abuse of children while criminals watch and guide the abuse from around the globe.

    Every single day, children’s rights to protection from sexual abuse and exploitation are violated. Overwhelming as this may seem, we are far from powerless to act. And we have a moral as well as legal responsibility to fight this heinous crime. Today, on the European Day on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, we want to explain why this moment is so critical for Europe and the world.

    We are not helpless. Advances in technology and law enforcement, along with a strong child protection ecosystem, could provide the tools we need to eradicate child sexual abuse materials from online platforms. All of this could be applied proportionately, with strictly regulated technologies that respect the privacy of internet users.

    What has been done to date by the entire child protection ecosystem, including technology companies, merits applause. All voluntary actions must be continued with a solid legal basis and regulatory framework. But, when looking at the exponentially growing scope of the problem, it’s clear that this won’t be enough. The European Union must live up to its promise to make the internet a safe place for children.

    Earlier this year, the European Commission proposed legislation to do exactly that. This legislation is currently being reviewed and considered in the European Parliament and by Member States in the Council of the European Union. We, the signatories of this letter, thank all parties involved for their hard work and high ambitions. This is an opportunity that EU policy-makers can’t afford to miss. Citizens across the EU have expressed widespread support (68 %) for the EU to introduce long-term legislation that will keep children safe online and for the use of automated tools to identify child sexual abuse materials. We call on everyone with a stake in fighting this problem to concentrate on effective solutions to strengthen the Commission’s proposal and ensure it brings tangible outcomes for child protection online.

    We all bring different expertise to the table. Together, we can find solutions that will help us build a world where children can be safe, curious, and happy - one in which every child is free to simply be a child.

    If you would like to support and sign the letter, please send an email to csa.euadvocacy@gmail.com

    List of signatories:

    1. Association Meilleur Avenir pour Nos Enfants (AMANE) (Morocco)
    2. ASTRA - Anti-trafficking Action (Serbia)
    3. Brave Movement (International)
    4. Child Helpline International (International)
    5. Child Rescue Coalition (International)
    6. Deutsches Kinderhilfswerk / German Children´s Fund (Germany)
    7. Different & Equal (Europe/Albania)
    8. ECPAT Germany (Germany
    9. ECPAT International (International)
    10. ECPAT Luxembourg (Luxembourg / International)
    11. ECPAT Sweden (Sweden)
    12. Empowering Children Foundation (Poland)
    13. Eurochild (Europe)
    14. Hintalovon Child Rights Foundation (Hungary)
    15. "Hope For Children" CRC Policy Center (International)
    16. International Falcon Movement - Socialist Educational International (IFM-SEI) (International)
    17. International Justice Mission's Center to End Online Sexual Exploitation of Children (International)
    18. Internet Watch Foundation (International/United Kingdom)
    19. Lasten perusoikeudet - Children´s Fundamental Rights ry (Finland)
    20. Missing Children Europe (Europe)
    21. Montessori Bundesverband Deutschland e.V. (Germany)
    22. National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (International)
    23. National Network for Children in Bulgaria (NNC), NNC's Legal Aid Network (Bulgaria)
    24. National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) (United Kingdom)
    25. Stiftung Digitale Chancen (Germany)
    26. Sentinel Foundation (International / Latin America)
    27. SOLWODI Deutschland e.V. (Germany)
    28. Suojellaan Lapsia, Protect Children ry. (PC) (International/Finland)
    29. Terre des Hommes (International)
    30. The National Child Protection Task Force (International)
    31. Thorn (International)
    32. Vatra Psycho - Social Centre (Albania)
    33. WeProtect Global Alliance (International)
    34. #stop_sexting project (Ukraine)

    The open letter can be downloaded as a PDF here.

  • Published 31.10.22

    What a Child is Told

    Jutta Croll, SDC

    What a child is told (Was ein Kind gesagt bekommt) is the title of a poem by Bertold Brecht from 1937. It contains many sayings that you yourself may remember from your own childhood and ends with the words: "A child keeps its mouth shut". The poem is only available in German.

    Today, children are raised differently, and this is also an achievement of the United Nations, which adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) as a human rights treaty in 1989. The 196 states around the world that have since ratified the Convention have thus committed themselves to implementing the rights guaranteed therein for children under the age of 18. Article 44 of the UNCRC stipulates that every five years, states must submit a report to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, documenting the measures they have taken to implement children’s rights and the progress they have made. These reports are reviewed by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and then discussed with government representatives at a hearing in Geneva.

    In 2019, the German government jointly submitted the 5th and 6th State Report, which was discussed before the Committee on the Rights of the Child in September 2022. Subsequently, the Committee published its so-called Concluding Observations. The increasing importance of the digital environment for the exercise and protection of children’s rights is reflected in the prominent treatment of these in the Committee’s remarks.

    Recalling its general comment No. 25 (2021) on children’s rights in relation to the digital environment, in §21 the Committee recommends that the State party:

    1. Allocate sufficient technical, financial and human resources to the newly established federal agency for child and youth protection in the media and ensure that it develops regulations and safeguarding policies to protect the rights, privacy and safety of children in the digital environment and to protect them from harmful content and online risks;
    2. Strengthen the implementation of laws that protect children in the digital environment, including the reformed youth protection act and the act to enhance the assertion of legal rights in social media networks, such as by providing for mechanisms to prosecute violations of children’s rights in the digital environment;
    3. Enhance the digital literacy and skills of children, parents and teachers, including by incorporating digital literacy into school curricula

    With reference to its 2019 guidelines regarding the implementation of the Optional Protocol, in §43 the Committee recommends that the State party:

    1. Expand the scope of the Media Youth protection Act to encompass all online applications and services where children are active and expand the definition of illegal content to the production of sexual abuse material of children between 14 and 17 years of age;
    2. Take all necessary measures to prevent, prosecute and eliminate the exploitation of children online and in travel, tourism and prostitution, including by: (i) requiring the digital business sector to put in place child protection standards; (ii) ensuring that Internet service providers control, block and promptly remove online sexual abuse material; (iii) encouraging travel enterprises to sign the code of conduct for the protection of children from sexual exploitation in travel and tourism; (iv) undertaking awareness-raising campaigns aimed at prevention for professionals working with and for children, parents and the public at large;
    3. Ensure that remedies are available to all child victims of offences under the Optional Protocol, including by expanding the scope of the victim protection law to allow for victims without a regular residence status to apply for compensation.

    The full concluding observations on the 5th and 6th State Reports from Germany, and thus what the German government is being told by the Children’s Rights Committee, is available for download here.

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