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Published 19.11.21

General comment No. 25 - Chapter VI: Civil rights and freedoms B - D

B. Freedom of expression

  1. Children’s right to freedom of expression includes the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, using any media of their choice. Children reported that the digital environment offered significant scope to express their ideas, opinions and political views. For children in disadvantaged or vulnerable situations, technology-facilitated interaction with others who share their experiences can help them to express themselves.

  2. Any restrictions on children’s right to freedom of expression in the digital environment, such as filters, including safety measures, should be lawful, necessary and proportionate. The rationale for such restrictions should be transparent and communicated to children in age-appropriate language. States parties should provide children with information and training opportunities on how to effectively exercise that right, in particular how to create and share digital content safely, while respecting the rights and dignity of others and not violating legislation, such as that relating to incitement to hatred and violence.

  3. When children express their political or other views and identities in the digital environment, they may attract criticism, hostility, threats or punishment. States parties should protect children from cyberaggression and threats, censorship, data breaches and digital surveillance. Children should not be prosecuted for expressing their opinions in the digital environment, unless they violate restrictions provided by criminal legislation which are compatible with article 13 of the Convention.

  4. Given the existence of commercial and political motivations to promote particular world views, States parties should ensure that uses of automated processes of information filtering, profiling, marketing and decision-making do not supplant, manipulate or interfere with children’s ability to form and express their opinions in the digital environment.

  5. C. Freedom of thought, conscience and religion

  6. States parties should respect the right of the child to freedom of thought, conscience and religion in the digital environment. The Committee encourages States parties to introduce or update data protection regulation and design standards that identify, define and prohibit practices that manipulate or interfere with children’s right to freedom of thought and belief in the digital environment, for example by emotional analytics or inference. Automated systems may be used to make inferences about a child’s inner state. They should ensure that automated systems or information filtering systems are not used to affect or influence children’s behaviour or emotions or to limit their opportunities or development.

  7. States parties should ensure that children are not penalized for their religion or beliefs or have their future opportunities in any other way restricted. The exercise of children’s right to manifest their religion or beliefs in the digital environment may be subject only to limitations that are lawful, necessary and proportionate.

  8. D. Freedom of association and peaceful assembly

  9. The digital environment can enable children to form their social, religious, cultural, ethnic, sexual and political identities and to participate in associated communities and in public spaces for deliberation, cultural exchange, social cohesion and diversity. Children reported that the digital environment provided them with valued opportunities to meet, exchange and deliberate with peers, decision makers and others who shared their interests.

  10. States parties should ensure that their laws, regulations and policies protect children’s right to participate in organizations that operate partially or exclusively in the digital environment. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise by children of their right to freedom of association and peaceful assembly in the digital environment other than those that are lawful, necessary and proportionate. Such participation should not in and of itself result in negative consequences to those children, such as exclusion from a school, restriction or deprivation of future opportunities or creation of a police profile. Such participation should be safe, private and free from surveillance by public or private entities.

  11. Public visibility and networking opportunities in the digital environment can also support child-led activism and can empower children as advocates for human rights. The Committee recognizes that the digital environment enables children, including children human rights defenders, as well as children in vulnerable situations, to communicate with each other, advocate for their rights and form associations. States parties should support them, including by facilitating the creation of specific digital spaces, and ensure their safety.

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