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Published 19.11.21

General comment No. 25 - Chapter VII: Violence against children, Part 2 and chapter VIII: Family environment and alternative care

VII. Violence against children

  1. Sexual offenders may use digital technologies to solicit children for sexual purposes and to participate in online child sexual abuse, for example, by the live video streaming, production and distribution of child sexual abuse material and through sexual extortion. Forms of digitally facilitated violence and sexual exploitation and abuse may also be perpetrated within a child’s circle of trust, by family or friends or, for adolescents, by intimate partners, and may include cyberaggression, including bullying and threats to reputation, the non-consensual creation or sharing of sexualized text or images, such as self-generated content by solicitation and/or coercion, and the promotion of self-harming behaviours, such as cutting, suicidal behaviour or eating disorders. Where children have carried out such actions, States parties should pursue preventive, safeguarding and restorative justice approaches for the children involved whenever possible.

  2. States parties should take legislative and administrative measures to protect children from violence in the digital environment, including the regular review, updating and enforcement of robust legislative, regulatory and institutional frameworks that protect children from recognized and emerging risks of all forms of violence in the digital environment. Such risks include physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or maltreatment, exploitation and abuse, including sexual exploitation and abuse, child trafficking, gender-based violence, cyberaggression, cyberattacks and information warfare. States parties should implement safety and protective measures in accordance with children’s evolving capacities.

  3. The digital environment can open up new ways for non-State groups, including armed groups designated as terrorist or violent extremist, to recruit and exploit children to engage with or participate in violence. States parties should ensure that legislation prohibits the recruitment of children by terrorist or violent extremist groups. Children accused of criminal offences in that context should be treated primarily as victims but, if charged, the child justice system should apply.

  4. VIII. Family environment and alternative care

  5. Many parents and caregivers require support to develop the technological understanding, capacity and skills necessary to assist children in relation to the digital environment. States parties should ensure that parents and caregivers have opportunities to gain digital literacy, to learn how technology can support the rights of children and to recognize a child who is a victim of online harm and respond appropriately. Special attention should be paid to the parents and caregivers of children in disadvantaged or vulnerable situations.

  6. In supporting and guiding parents and caregivers regarding the digital environment, States parties should promote their awareness to respect children’s growing autonomy and need for privacy, in accordance with their evolving capacities. States parties should take into account that children often embrace and experiment with digital opportunities and may encounter risks, including at a younger age than parents and caregivers may anticipate. Some children reported wanting more support and encouragement in their digital activities, especially where they perceived parents’ and caregivers’ approach to be punitive, overly restrictive or not adjusted to their evolving capacities.

  7. States parties should take into account that support and guidance provided to parents and caregivers should be based on an understanding of the specificity and uniqueness of parent-child relations. Such guidance should support parents in sustaining an appropriate balance between the child’s protection and emerging autonomy, based on mutual empathy and respect, over prohibition or control. To help parents and caregivers to maintain a balance between parental responsibilities and children’s rights, the best interests of the child, applied together with consideration of the child’s evolving capacities, should be the guiding principles. Guidance to parents and caregivers should encourage children’s social, creative and learning activities in the digital environment and emphasize that the use of digital technologies should not replace direct, responsive interactions among children themselves or between children and parents or caregivers.

  8. It is important that children separated from their families have access to digital technologies. Evidence has shown that digital technologies are beneficial in maintaining family relationships, for example, in cases of parental separation, when children are placed in alternative care, for the purposes of establishing relations between children and prospective adoptive or foster parents and in reuniting children in humanitarian crisis situations with their families. Therefore, in the context of separated families, States parties should support access to digital services for children and their parents, caregivers or other relevant persons, taking into consideration the safety and best interests of the child.

  9. Measures taken to enhance digital inclusion should be balanced with the need to protect children in cases where parents or other family members or caregivers, whether physically present or distant, may place them at risk. States parties should consider that such risks may be enabled through the design and use of digital technologies, for example, by revealing the location of a child to a potential abuser. In recognition of those risks, They should require an approach integrating safety-by-design and privacy-by-design and ensure that parents and caregivers are fully aware of the risks and available strategies to support and protect children.

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