General Comment on children’s rights in relation to the digital environment :: COMMITTEE ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD

Children’s Rights – Digital Environment

General Comment on children’s rights in relation to the digital environment
March 2, 2021 :: 20 pages
At its 86th session, the Committee on the Rights of the Child adopted its general comment No. 25 (2021) on children’s rights in relation to the digital environment. A terminology glossary, explanatory note and child-friendly version are also available.  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. In parallel, 709 children and young people in 28 countries were consulted. In August 2020, the Committee invited all interested parties to comment on its draft general comment, and received 142 submissions from States, regional organisations, United Nations agencies, national human rights institutions and Children’s Commissioners, children’s and adolescent groups, civil society organisations, academics, the private sector, and other entities and individuals.

General Comments [Selected Excerpts]
I. Introduction
1. The children consulted for the present general comment reported that digital technologies were vital to their current lives and to their future: “By the means of digital technology, we can get information from all around the world”; “[Digital technology] introduced me to major aspects of how I identify myself”; “When you are sad, the Internet can help you [to] see something that brings you joy”.1

2. The digital environment is constantly evolving and expanding, encompassing information and communications technologies, including digital networks, content, services and applications, connected devices and environments, virtual and augmented reality, artificial intelligence, robotics, automated systems, algorithms and data analytics, biometrics and implant technology.2

3. The digital environment is becoming increasingly important across most aspects of children’s lives, including during times of crisis, as societal functions, including education, government services and commerce, progressively come to rely upon digital technologies. It affords new opportunities for the realization of children’s rights, but also poses the risks of their violation or abuse. During consultations, children expressed the view that the digital environment should support, promote and protect their safe and equitable engagement: “We would like the government, technology companies and teachers to help us [to] manage untrustworthy information online.”; “I would like to obtain clarity about what really happens with my data … Why collect it? How is it being collected?”; “I am … worried about my data being shared”.3

4. The rights of every child must be respected, protected and fulfilled in the digital environment. Innovations in digital technologies affect children’s lives and their rights in ways that are wide-ranging and interdependent, even where children do not themselves access the Internet. Meaningful access to digital technologies can support children to realize the full range of their civil, political, cultural, economic and social rights. However, if digital inclusion is not achieved, existing inequalities are likely to increase, and new ones may arise…

II. Objective
7. In the present general comment, the Committee explains how States parties should implement the Convention in relation to the digital environment and provides guidance on relevant legislative, policy and other measures to ensure full compliance with their obligations under the Convention and the Optional Protocols thereto in the light of the opportunities, risks and challenges in promoting, respecting, protecting and fulfilling all children’s rights in the digital environment…

IV. Evolving capacities
19. States parties should respect the evolving capacities of the child as an enabling principle that addresses the process of their gradual acquisition of competencies, understanding and agency.9 That process has particular significance in the digital environment, where children can engage more independently from supervision by parents and caregivers. The risks and opportunities associated with children’s engagement in the digital environment change depending on their age and stage of development. They should be guided by those considerations whenever they are designing measures to protect children in, or facilitate their access to, that environment. The design of age-appropriate measures should be informed by the best and most up-to-date research available, from a range of disciplines.

20. States parties should take into account the changing position of children and their agency in the modern world, children’s competence and understanding, which develop unevenly across areas of skill and activity, and the diverse nature of the risks involved. Those considerations must be balanced with the importance of exercising their rights in supported environments and the range of individual experiences and circumstances.10 States parties should ensure that digital service providers offer services that are appropriate for children’s evolving capacities.

21. In accordance with States’ duty to render appropriate assistance to parents and caregivers in the performance of their child-rearing responsibilities, States parties should promote awareness among parents and caregivers of the need to respect children’s evolving autonomy, capacities and privacy. They should support parents and caregivers in acquiring digital literacy and awareness of the risks to children in order to help them to assist children in the realization of their rights, including to protection, in relation to the digital environment…

9 General comment No. 7 (2005), para. 17; and general comment No. 20 (2016), paras. 18 and 20.
10 General comment No. 20 (2016), para. 20.
11 General comment No. 5 (2003), para. 45; general comment No. 14 (2013), para. 99; and general comment No. 16 (2013), paras. 78–81.