Update: UN adopts General Comment on children's online rights (February 11, 2021)
The United Nations now recognises that children’s rights extend to the online realm. These rights - and the responsibilities they invoke on world governments and corporates regarding issues such as children’s online safety - are outlined in the Committee on the Rights of the Child's General Comment 25.
The Committee reviewed submissions from 142 groups and individuals representing government, industry and the community. Read our submission on the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner’s web page here (see ‘Other Stakeholders’, reference number 26).
We're particularly interested to see whether our expressed concerns about end-to-end encryption have been addressed in the final version of the General Comment, due for publication late February.
Corporates must stop aiding and profiting from online child sexual exploitation
Earlier this month Collective Shout made a submission to the United Nations with recommendations related to children's rights in the digital environment. Our submission focussed on the risks of online sexual exploitation and abuse including grooming, exposure to pornography, Live Distant Child Abuse (LDCA), and highlighted the urgent need for governments and corporates to take action to stop it.
Big tech failing kids
We drew from our year-long joint, global #WakeUpInstagram campaign which has highlighted failures of Facebook - Instagram's owners - to keep children safe on its rated 13+ platform. We recommended that digital platforms provide maximum privacy for children via default settings, change algorithms which connect predators to children and prohibit the promotion of purchasable content featuring children which serves as a magnet to predators.
Children's right to be protected from harm
Citing our submission to last year's inquiry into Age Verification for Online Wagering and Pornography, we highlighted the necessity of an age verification system to protect children from exposure to online pornography. Research shows the harms of childhood porn exposure, including increased risk of peer-to-peer sexual abuse and boys subjecting girls to violent and abusive re-enactments of porn scenes they have watched. Children have the right to be protected from the harmful advances of the multi-billion dollar global online porn industry, and an age verification system will help provide protection.
eSafety a model for oversight bodies
We commended eSafety - Australia's government agency responsible for overseeing online security and safety - as a model for mandated government bodies, to increase online safety for children globally.
End-to-end encryption (E2EE)
We voiced our objections to Facebook's plan to roll out end-to-end encryption across all its messaging services by the end of the year - a move which leading governments and child safety organisations say will prevent detection of predatory activity and child abuse. We said the move to E2EE would violate Facebook's commitment to the Voluntary Principles to Counter Online Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (Voluntary Principles) and expressed our support for efforts to block it until adequate measures have been taken to ensure children are not placed at greater risk of harm.
Measures to rein in corporate offendenders which fail to keep children safe
While reiterating our support for the Voluntary Principles we cautioned against reliance on self-regulation and referenced examples of failures of corporates to uphold child safety and well-being in a self-regulated environment. We recommended that the UN investigate sanctions against global corporations which profit from hosting/facilitating direct and indirect sexual exploitation of children with consideration of the need for consistency across a global, interconnected environment.
Read our full submission here.