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Published 05.07.18

Recommendation of the Council of Europe on children’s rights in the digital environment

Jutta Croll

How to better respect, protect and fulfil the rights of the child in the digital environment is at the core of the new Recommendation adopted on July 4th by the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers.

When the Council of Europe adopted the Sofia-Strategy for the implementation of the UN-CRC in April 2016 the enforcement of children’s rights in the digital environment was addressed for the first time and established as one of the five pillars of the strategy. In light of the rapidly advancing process of digitisation of our everyday life this was a reasonable step forward to ensure that children’s rights are also respected in the digital environment.

The task resulting from the Sofia-Strategy was commissioned to a group of experts - the CAHENF-IT, to which on behalf of the project childrens-rights.digital also Jutta Croll belongs. During the last 18 months the group has examined the effects of digitisation on the realisation of children’s rights and formulated recommendations for a child-centered implementation. Building on international and European legal instruments, the text provides comprehensive guidelines for action by European governments.

The digital environment shapes children’s lives in many ways, creating opportunities and risks to their well-being and enjoyment of human rights. Governments are recommended to review their legislation, policies and practices to ensure that these adequately address the full range of the rights of the child. States should also ensure that business enterprises and other key partners meet their human rights responsibilities and are held accountable in case of abuses.

Poor access to the digital environment may affect the ability of children to fully exercise their human rights. States should ensure that children have adequate, affordable and secure access to devices, connectivity and content specifically intended for children; in dedicated public places such access should be rendered free of charge. However, specific measures should be taken to protect infants from premature exposure to the digital environment.

States should guarantee the rights of the child to hold and express any views, no matter if their opinions are received favourably by the State or other stakeholders. As creators and distributors of information, children should be made aware by the States of how to exercise their right to freedom of expression in the digital environment, how to respect the rights and dignity of others, and be informed of the legitimate restrictions on the freedom of expression, for example to prevent intellectual property rights violations and counter incitement to hatred and violence. It is crucial to provide high-quality content tailor-made for children.

States should also take measures to protect the right of children to engage in play, in peaceful assembly and association, as well as to foster participation, inclusion, digital citizenship and resilience both online and offline. States must respect, protect and fulfil the right of the child to privacy and data protection. States should not prohibit in law or practice anonymity, pseudonymity or the usage of encryption technologies for children. Processing of personal data should only be possible with the explicit and informed consent of the children and/or their parents or legal representatives. Profiling of children to analyse or predict their personal preferences should be prohibited by law.

Measures to strengthen digital literacy, including critical understanding by children of the digital environment, and educational resources should be promoted. Given the speed at which new technologies emerge, the guidelines also propose measures to address risks for children in the digital environment. These include regular risk assessments, use of effective systems of age verification, putting in place principles for products/services addressed to or used by children, protecting children from commercial exploitation, age-inappropriate advertising and marketing, harmful content and behaviour, sexual exploitation and abuse, grooming, online recruitment for the commission of crimes, participation in extremist political or religious movements, human trafficking, as well as from bullying, stalking and other forms of harassment. Accessible, affordable and child-friendly avenues to submit complaints and seek remedies, both judicial and non-judicial, should be ensured for children and their representatives.

For the first time, these guidelines provide an instrument under international law to support children’s growing up well in the light of the digital transformation. For stakeholders on all levels - be it in politics, industry, academia or educational practice - the recommendations build a basis to focus on the child and implement appropriate measures to realise protection, empowerment, and participation of children in the digital world.

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