The digital environment
Children need special protection online and they need to be educated about how to steer clear of danger and how to get maximum benefit from their use of the Internet. To achieve this, children need to become digital citizens. The Internet exposes children to a wealth of opportunities, but also risks that may have a detrimental impact on their human rights. Some of these risks include cyberbullying, data protection issues, online grooming, cybercrime and child sexual abuse material. With the right education and concerted efforts on behalf of member states, Internet service providers and educators, children can learn to successfully avoid these risks and to take advantage of the Internet’s many opportunities.
The Council of Europe Strategy for the Rights of the Child (2022-2027) includes a focus on children’s rights in the digital environment which is reinforced by the Recommendation CM/Rec(2018)7 of the Committee of Ministers to member States on Guidelines to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of the child in the digital environment, which also exists in a child-friendly version. The new Handbook for policy makers on the rights of the child in the digital environment completes these guidelines, by supporting policy makers in dealing concretely with the online rights and protection of children. It assists the formulation of national frameworks and policies, and provides interpretative and practical guidance to ensure the respect of children’s rights online.
The latest Declaration by the Committee of Ministers calls on member states to intensify their efforts to protect children’s privacy in the digital environment and to promote, inter alia, the Guidelines on children’s data protection in an education setting, prepared by the Consultative Committee of Convention 108 in order to address the challenges identified in such settings.
Council of Europe Report on children with disabilities in the digital environment, discussed the importance of policy making and presented how the Handbook can be used to safeguard and support children’s activities online.
Fundamental freedoms fully apply offline and online, as is emphasised in the Guide to human rights for Internet users. The guide informs Internet users about how human rights apply online and makes the protection of children one of its seven main pillars.
The revised Internet Literacy Handbook is a tool for children, parents, teachers and policy makers to be able to make the most of Internet and prepare future generations to use the Internet safely and confidently by being aware of opportunities and risks.
I. Mainstreaming of children’s rights
The Children’s Rights Division of the Council of Europe aims to mainstream children’s rights into all aspects of the Council of Europe’s work in the area of data protection, media and Internet governance. The aim is to ensure that a special focus on children’s rights is included in all actions carried out by the various bodies of the Council of Europe.
The following divisions and committees have integrated a focus on children in their actions in the field of data protection, media, cybercrime and Internet governance.
II. Binding legal instruments
The Council of Europe has adopted several legal standards with a view to enhancing human rights protection on the Internet, which include the protection of children’s rights on the Internet. These legal instruments are binding on member states and set common minimum standards for their joint efforts to protect human rights online.
In the framework of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) (ETS No. 5) the European Court of Human Rights has developed case-law on human rights on the Internet. Examples of rights at stake in such cases include the right to respect for private and family life (Article 8) and freedom of expression (Article 10). The Court has published a fact sheet summarising all leading cases in the field of technology and human rights.
The Convention on Cybercrime (Budapest Convention) (ETS No. 185) establishes a common approach to the criminalisation of offences related to computer systems and aims to make criminal investigations concerning such offences more effective. According to the convention all conduct relating to child pornography must be established as a criminal offence in the states parties.
The Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse (Lanzarote Convention) (CETS No. 201) responds to potential risks faced by children when using the Internet by imposing criminal penalties for online child pornography and grooming, that is, the solicitation of children for sexual purposes.
The Council of Europe's Convention for the Protection of Individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data (Convention 108) (ETS No. 108) ensures respect for fundamental human rights with regard to processing of personal data. Children are holders of data protection rights under the convention and special attention must be paid to empowering children to exercise their right to data protection.
Committee of Ministers
The purpose of the guidelines is to assist states and other relevant stakeholders in their efforts to adopt a comprehensive, strategic approach in building and containing the often complex world of the digital environment. Ensuring children’s interaction and safety in this environment is paramount. Among the many topics covered are the protection of personal data, provision of child-friendly content adapted to their evolving capacities, helplines and hotlines, vulnerability and resilience, as well as the role and responsibilities of business enterprises. In addition, the guidelines call upon states to engage with children, including in decision-making processes, to ensure that national policies adequately address developments in the digital environment.
Background document to the Guidelines: Policy guidance on empowering, protecting and supporting children in the digital environment and report of the child consultations: It's our world: children's views on the protection of rights in the digital environment
This text recommends that member States recognise digital culture as one of the key issues for modern cultural policy making and revisit their cultural policy approaches with a view to implementing the policy guidelines contained in this recommendation, so as to serve citizens to the best of their ability. The policy guidelines recommend that particular efforts should be made through the educational and cultural system to scale up the multiliteracy skills of children who have no or little access to digital technology for socio-geographical or socio-economic reasons, as well as sometimes for reasons of place of residence and of children who have access to but do not use, lack the skills to use or underuse digital technology (namely in terms of diversity, frequency or intensity of usage).
The recommendation calls on member states to actively promote the Guide to human rights for Internet users. The guide promotes respect for existing human rights and fundamental freedoms in the context of Internet use. It serves as a tool for Internet users to learn about their human rights online and the available remedies for any limitations. It also specifically states that children and young people are entitled to special protection and guidance when using the Internet.
As social networks play an increasingly important role in the life of children and young people, this recommendation calls for better protection against harmful content and behaviour, stressing the need for a balanced approach and shared best practices.
This recommendation highlights the need to provide children with the knowledge, skills, understanding, attitudes, human rights values and behaviour necessary to participate actively in social and public life, and to act responsibly while respecting the rights of others.
The recommendation reinforces the need for appropriate filtering for children and young people regarding content carrying a risk of harm, while specifying that member states shall refrain from Internet filtering for reasons other than laid down in Article 10, paragraph 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
This recommendation calls on member states for a coherent information literacy and training strategy which is conducive to empowering children and their educators to make the best possible use of information and communication services and technologies.
This declaration affirms that there should be no permanently accessible record of content created by children on the Internet which challenges their dignity, security and privacy or otherwise renders them vulnerable now or at a later stage in their lives.
This recommendation calls on member states’ parliaments to take action to increase the safety of minors using the Internet and online media services. It promotes the initiation of public awareness campaigns targeted at the risks and opportunities for minors using Internet and online media services.
This recommendation recommends that the Council of Europe take a strong position on the action to be taken to combat child abuse images. The Parliamentary Assembly recommends that the articles of the Lanzarote Convention on child pornography should be strengthened and further developed so as to include the obligation to block websites with illegal content when their rapid deletion is not possible.
IV. Guidelines for human rights online
The recommendation of the Committee of Ministers on a Guide to human rights for Internet users promotes respect for existing human rights and fundamental freedoms in the context of Internet use. The guide serves as a tool for Internet users to learn about their human rights online and the available remedies for any limitations. It also specifically states that children and young people are entitled to special protection and guidance when using the Internet.
The Human rights guidelines for Internet service providers provide human rights benchmarks for Internet service providers (ISPs) and give practical advice on how to minimise risks for children stemming from illegal and/or harmful content.
The Human rights guidelines for online games providers provide human rights benchmarks for online games providers and developers. While underlining the primary value of games as tools for expression and communication, they stress the importance of gamers’ safety and their right to privacy and freedom of expression. The guidelines also emphasise the importance for the games industry to be aware of the human rights impact that games can have on children and young people. The guidelines were developed by the Council of Europe in close co-operation with the Interactive Software Federation of Europe (ISFE).
V. Educational materials
The Council of Europe’s revised Internet Literacy Handbook explains how to get the most out of the Internet and how to protect one’s privacy. The handbook is for for children, parents, teachers and policy makers. The structure is based on a thematic approach and contains 26 factsheets on various themes, from information on how to set up websites to anticipating and coping with the technology of tomorrow.
Children learn best by doing and that is why the Council of Europe has designed a game to help children understand their rights on the Internet: the Wild Web Woods. The game teaches children how to respect the rights of others on the Internet. The aim of the game is to reach the e-city Kometa which is a place of fun, peace and freedom. Kometa can only be reached by passing through the Wild Web Woods and collecting coins. Each time the player collects a coin they are given important information about Internet safety and children’s rights.
The game is accompanied with a guide for teachers, Teacher’s guide to the online game: Wild Web Woods
The training activities of the Pestalozzi Programme, and in particular the modules for trainer training, focus on learning by doing. The Pestalozzi Programme has developed a module series on media literacy development and in 2014 the programme organised a training course on responsible attitudes and behaviour in the virtual social space. Most of the materials are developed for the context of pre-service or in-service teacher training within the Pestalozzi modules for trainer training. However, most of them can also be adapted to use in the classroom.
VI. Good practices in member states
Effective human rights protection can only be achieved by co-operation and information sharing between member states. The Council of Europe member states have all developed good practices in the field of children’s rights protection on the Internet. The following list provides a country-by-country overview of such good practices.
The Albanian Council of Ministers has created a code of conduct for parents and children on safe and responsible use of electronic communication. Many companies have already signed up to it.
This portal was set up in 2007 by the Data Protection Agency in co-operation with the ministry of education. It contains documents, videos and other material intended to inform children and parents. The site is used for teaching in all secondary schools.
The Austrian Child and Youth Advocacies, in co-operation with the Federal Ministry for Family and Youth along with the Österreichischer Rundfunk (ORF) as media partner, held an open contest to create a “Children’s Rights Spot”. The videos have been produced by children between 10 and 25 years of age and are free to be used by other member states.
Children have been consulted on how they use websites. The new Belgian website will therefore be created in consultation with them and information will be adapted to the way children would like it to be presented.
Safenet was created by a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that is now a part of the Agency for Child Protection. The website presents the opportunities the Internet offers to children. A Facebook application has been developed that enables teenagers to post their choices for online rights and to vote for these rights. A youth parliament has produced a charter containing 10 online rights.
The website Petzanet was developed with NGOs and academics. It is aimed at teachers and parents and can be used as a curriculum in schools. It contains guides, videos etc. Croatia has also organised parliamentary discussions on media literacy and involved children as participants.
This website is the result of an NGO project with Microsoft and Czech Google. The initiative is intended for parents, teachers and children. They have also produced a brochure which informs children about the risks on the Internet. The brochure is based on the Ducktales theme and ends with a story on Donald Duck and how he wants to prevent little ducks from using the Internet.
The website is an Internet portal aimed at children and young people. It enables young people to find out about their rights. The front page contains a list of keywords which relate to problems that children face, such as bullying, ethnicity, illness, grief, and life online.
Pedagojeux is a website with a video game created by NGOs and authorities for use by professionals. The website has a twofold objective: to raise awareness of the dangers connected to videogames and to give educators a pedagogic approach to issues with regard to the use of video games. Contains videos made by experts and statements by parents about their experiences. A new version is being launched and will include a space for young people to share information.
The helpline 1.96.96 and the chat line of Telefono Azzurro (http://www.azzurro.it/sostegno) were created to receive calls for assistance from children and adolescents up to 18 years of age and from parents seeking support in managing dangerous situations concerning their children.
This hotline service collects and manages alerts (which may be anonymous) relating to child pornographic materials on the website by clicking on the “Clicca e segnala” of Telefono Azzurro and on the form on the website.
A truck is parked outside primary and secondary schools to host debates and introduce awareness-raising events involving students, parents and teachers. These debates focus on the use of social networks and how to prevent illegal use by disseminating information about software protection systems, monitoring mechanisms and limitations in accessing websites.
Website established by different NGOs and hotlines. Contains information for children, parents and educators on many different topics such as bullying and Internet safety. An ethics code for children on social networking and how to comment and respect each other’s comments, how to protect personal data and how to upload photos, etc. has been developed.
Action Innocence has created a number of software for the detection of child abuse images. A program is presented in schools every year to raise awareness about the risks online and teach children good behaviour on the Internet. The program has various modules well adapted to each target group.
Study on child safety online in Moldova (English translation)
The initiative Siguronline is an online information portal launched by an NGO. It contains information for children and parents and has a special button for reporting websites that contain dangerous content or child abuse images. A filtering software application is available on the website for free download.
This public information channel for young people between 13 and 20 years of age looks at the opportunities the Internet offers. It is essentially a one-stop-shop for young people. It provides quality information tailored to young people. There is, for example, a questions and answers service to which the relevant authorities respond promptly. It is an interactive platform greatly influenced by young people’s interests and has about 850 000 visits each month.
Collaborative campaigns: www.brukhue.com
This is a co-operation between the Norwegian Media Authority, Telenor, Barnevakten and the Norwegian Red Cross. It is the largest national campaign against cyber-bullying and includes a website with content for children, young people and parents. Individual queries are channelled into the existing hotline service (www.korspahalsen.no).
This website is a national reference point regarding safe Internet issues. A helpline for children was created in 2012. Now children can call a toll free number or submit an online form if they come across abusive or illegal content.
The aim of the page is to make statistics on children’s rights available, accessible and comparable. The possibility to compare statistics encourages citizens and decision makers to compare themselves with their neighbours and do better in protecting children’s rights.
The website forms a part of the Youth and the Media Programme. The objective is for parents, children, and other people to react to the opportunities and risks presented in the media. The site contains advice on the ways in which parents, teachers and others can use media to help young children. There are presentations and animation sets for families as well as leaflets and advice. The site features 10 golden rules on how to use online media safely.
The website contains filtering software options which are available for download. It is free and contains several options for filtering, such as a child filtering system or a family filtering system. The systems are created by a commission composed of psychologists and other professionals with relevant experience.
VII. Cybercrime and child sexual abuse material
The Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime (Budapest Convention) and the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse (Lanzarote Convention) criminalise all actions concerning child sexual abuse material.
Child sexual abuse material is defined in Article 9 of the Budapest Convention as “pornographic material that visually depicts a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct; a person appearing to be a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct; and realistic images representing a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct”. For the material to be considered child pornography under Article 9 of the convention it is clear that a real child does not have to be involved, it is sufficient that the material represent a minor. The reasoning behind this provision is that even if there is no real harm caused to a child in the process of producing the material, it can be used to encourage or seduce children into participating in such acts.
The definition of child pornography in Article 20 of the Lanzarote Convention is inspired by Article 9 of the Budapest Convention, but covers all forms of material, and not only material produced through computer systems.
All actions concerning child pornography such as production, offering of child pornography, distribution or transmission, procurement and possession of child pornography are criminalised in the Budapest Convention and the Lanzarote Convention. However, the Lanzarote Convention goes even further and for the first time criminalises the act of “knowingly obtaining access to child pornography”. This provision is intended to catch those offenders who access child pornography sites intentionally but without downloading any child sexual abuse images.
The Data Protection and Cybercrime Division of the Council of Europe under the Global Project on Cybercrime carries out activities to assist member states in the implementation of the Budapest Convention by encouraging the sharing of good practices and assessing available cybercrime legislation. A legislative benchmark study conducted by the Global Project on Cybercrime in 2012 showed that comprehensive domestic legislation harmonised with international standards, such as the Budapest Convention and Lanzarote Convention, is a prerequisite for effective law enforcement co-operation to protect children from cybercrime in the form of sexual exploitation.
VIII. Children and online grooming
Grooming for sexual purposes is one of the many risks children may encounter on the Internet. It can take place in Internet chat rooms, social networking sites or game sites. Although the act of grooming is not a new tactic, the fact that it can now be done online offers new and dangerous possibilities for offenders to solicit children in a faster and more anonymous way.
While communicating online, the groomer although not physically present, manipulates the child and can cause the child to witness, watch or take part in the production of online sexual material. This material can be watched by the offender and used as child abuse material. Once circulated online, it can be extremely difficult to delete and thus creates long lasting abuse and harm to the child. In some cases grooming may also lead to the adult organising a meeting with the child for the purpose of committing sexual offences against him or her.
The Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse (Lanzarote Convention) is the first international instrument to criminalise the solicitation of children for sexual purposes through information and communication technologies. More specifically, Article 23 of the convention criminalises the intentional proposal of an adult wanting to meet a child for the purpose of engaging in sexual activities or the production of child abuse material.
The Committee of the Parties to the Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse (the Lanzarote Committee) adopted an Opinion on the issue of online grooming.
A legislative benchmark study conducted by the Council of Europe’s Global Project on Cybercrime in 2012 showed that comprehensive domestic legislation harmonised with international standards, such as the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime and the Lanzarote Convention, is a prerequisite for effective law enforcement co-operation to protect children from online sexual exploitation such as grooming.
Bullying among children now has another platform of manifestation, the Internet. Cyberbullying is the use of technology to harass, threaten or embarrass another child. A study by EU Kids Online from 2010 revealed that one in five children have been exposed to cyberbullying. According to children, cyberbullying is one of the most harmful risks they associate with the Internet.
The Charter on Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights Education requires “to combat all forms of discrimination and violence, especially bullying and harassment”.
The Parliamentary Assembly in its Resolution 1893 (2011) on education against violence at school adopted several guiding principles that it calls on member states’ parliaments to endorse at national level in their efforts to beat bullying. This resolution also entails a commitment to ensure that work on the subject of children and violence remains a priority for the Council of Europe.
The Council of Europe efforts on fighting bullying are carried out by the Directorate of Democratic Citizenship and Participation. The directorate produced a videospot, Beat Bullying, to show the harmful effects of bullying. It demonstrates how human rights and citizenship education programmes can equip children with the necessary skills to help stop bullying and cyberbullying.
The Council of Europe’s Youth Sector is running a campaign to target hate speech online. It aims to combat racism and discrimination, expressed online as hate speech, by mobilising young people and youth organisations to recognise and act against such violations.
X. Children and data protection
The Council of Europe aims to secure children’s right to privacy on the Internet by promoting practices that enable the deletion of content produced by children. The existence of lasting or permanently accessible records of content created by children may render them vulnerable now or at a later stage in their lives.
Children, like adults, are holders of data protection rights under the Council of Europe's Data Protection Convention ("Convention 108”). The Convention is legally binding and establishes universal basic principles that apply to both the public and private sectors. The convention aims to harmonise national legislation to ensure respect for fundamental human rights with regard to processing of personal data.
The modernisation proposals of the convention require supervisory authorities to give specific attention to the data protection rights of children. The supervisory authorities in member states have an essential role to play in empowering children to exercise their rights under Convention 108.
The new Declaration by the Committee of Ministers calls on member states to intesify their efforts to protect children’s privacy in the digital environment and to promote, inter alia, the Guidelines on children’s data protection in an education setting, prepared by the Consultative Committee of Convention 108 in order to address the challenges identified in such settings.These Guidelines set forth the fundamental principles of children’s rights in an education setting and help legislators and policy makers, data controllers as well as the industry to uphold these rights.