The Committee on the Rights of the Child 2014 Day of General Discussion, themed “Digital Media and Children’s Rights” was held on 12 September. ECPAT was represented at the Day of General Discussion by John Carr, Senior Advisor on Children Online. On this day ECPAT also took the opportunity to announce its latest publication, Stay safe from online sexual exploitation: a guide for young people. The guide was developed to help young people understand more about the online sexual exploitation of children and ways they can fight to end it and protect themselves from this abuse.
The Discussion was held in order to better understand the effects of children’s engagement with social media and other communication technologies in order to protect them from harm. Notable attendees included Frank La Rue, former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression and Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography.
During the Discussion, ECPAT stressed that Internet access is a fundamental right for children and protecting children from the risks of the Internet does not conflict with this right. Dangers to children online include inappropriate content, violent images (child pornography), cyberbullying, sexual exploitation, invasion of privacy, and commercial advertising targeted to children.
While many children safely interact with digital media, there are children who are more vulnerable than others to online exploitation and all children are deserving of protection. Unfortunately, adults are not overreacting to the risks of the Internet. Law enforcement is often overwhelmed by the spread of child pornography and requires the help of non-state actors. For example, the British police have identified 50-60,000 people who downloaded child pornography but only arrest a maximum of 2000 offenders per year. Possession of child pornography is not yet banned by the Convention on the Rights of the Child and it hasn't been outlawed in 60 countries. Additionally, there is insufficient data on the benefits and harms of digital media to children. Current research focuses on the global North and further research is needed about how children use digital media and the harms they are exposed to or have suffered.
Recommendations relating to safety arising from the Discussion included the need for more awareness of children and adults about the risks. Other recommendations included increased training of law enforcement, establishment of legal and self-regulating mechanisms, development of technological solutions for prevention and protection and ensure assistance for victims of harm. Measures to mediate risks to children must be balanced against the enjoyment of children’s rights, including the freedom of expression, right to participation and right to association. Children must be empowered to maximize the benefits and minimize the harms of the Internet and play a key role in protecting themselves.