GENEVA (10 February 2015) – Top United Nations experts on children’s rights and on freedom of expression join the voices of children, parents, teachers, policymakers, law enforcement, industry and civil society in their call to create a better and safe Internet. 

Speaking ahead of the global Safer Internet Day, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Violence against Children, Marta Santos Pais; the Special Rapporteur on sale and sexual exploitation of children, Maud de Boer-Buquicchio; and the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, David Kaye, call on States and the IT industry to tackle head on online child sexual abuse and exploitation, while protecting the right to freedom of expression of both children and adults.

“Information and communication technologies evolve and spread at phenomenal speed. This evolution represents an amazing opportunity that more and more children are using to learn, play, create, socialize, and express themselves, in particular through the Internet. Indeed, through their access to Internet, children can exercise their right to access to information and to freedom of expression, their rights to be heard, to participate in public debate and develop a critical thinking.

However, without determined and coordinated action, millions of children will continue to be excluded from the benefits of the Internet, child victims of on-line violence, abuse and exploitation will continue to multiply, and impunity for these offences will continue fueling criminality.

Openness and accessibility are fundamental aspects of the Internet − but therein also lie some of the greatest risks. New technologies are easing the production and proliferation of child abuse material, with new exploitative activities appearing such as the live streaming of child sexual abuse on demand. The quantification and identification of cases are made difficult by the possibility of concealing illegal activities on the Internet. The harm caused to child victims is amplified when images of abuse and exploitation go viral.

Exposure to harmful information or abusive material, grooming by predators, breaches of privacy, cyber-bullying, and production and distribution of exploitative behaviour cannot be the price to pay for innovation and freedom.

As communications technologies evolve, some States have adopted disproportionate restrictions on freedom of expression on the Internet, presenting them as measures to protect children from harm while, in effect, they limit the rights of children and adults. Child protection and freedom of expression must not be addressed as opposing goals.

On the contrary, the challenge of creating a safe online environment for children lies in developing a range of responses that strike the appropriate balance between maximizing the potential of new technologies to promote and protect children’s rights while minimizing the risks and ensuring children’s safety and well-being. Rather than curtailing children’s natural curiosity and sense of innovation for fear of encountering risks online, it is critical to tap into their resourcefulness and enhance their capacities to surf the internet with safety.

Considerable progress has been made in recent years in addressing risks and harms while maximizing opportunities offered by new technologies to prevent online abuse and empower children, through awareness raising, education programmes and specialized training, focusing on schools, and supporting parents and care-givers, among others.

It is high time to scale up these efforts by connecting through a truly global alliance to develop an empowering, safe and inclusive digital agenda for children.

We call on States to establish a clear and comprehensive legal framework ensuring explicit prohibition of all forms of violence, abuse and exploitation against children, including in the cyber space, as well as promoting and protecting children’ rights to freedom of expression and access to information. States also need to invest in prevention programmes and secure effective protection, recovery and compensation of child victims.

We call on States, the industry and civil society to create child-friendly detection and reporting mechanisms, including helplines to seek advice and applications to report violent incidents and suspicious behaviour. Internet service and content providers and technology companies should assist in the identification of victims and offenders, and in the removal of child abuse material from the Internet.

We also call on States to ensure, through effective transnational cooperation mechanisms, the investigation and prosecution of offenders wherever they are, and to strengthen capacity to tackle online child sexual abuse and exploitation.

Evidence shows that by protecting children’s rights and adopting measures to tackle online exploitative behaviour against children, a reduction of harm and a safe online environment can be achieved for children to fully exercise their rights online and offline, including their freedom of expression.

We need an empowering, inclusive and safe Internet for all children, wherever they are. Let us all connect safely to make it happen!”

“Let’s connect for a safe, empowering and inclusive Internet” Safer Internet Day – Tuesday 10 February 2015