The story so far: The child online safety toolkit was launched earlier this week in an attempt to make the online experience safe for children. Scripted and put together by the Britain-based NGO 5Rights that works to ensure that children’s rights and needs are prioritised in the digital world, the toolkit provides a practical and accessible roadmap to create a digital world where children and young people “are safe and fulfilled”. This includes step by step instructions to help assess and inform policy development at all stages of the process. As such, any government can use the toolkit as a building block to work out its own culturally specific set of guidelines for online safety.
The toolkit can be downloaded for free from childonlinesafetytoolkit.org and by contacting email@example.com.
Children want to be online and they need to be online. If two years of the pandemic have taught us anything, it is that a good portion of the future is going to be online. Education migrated almost entirely online for a significant period during the pandemic and children were linked to schools through their devices. While the merits or otherwise of such an arrangement has been discussed at length, it is undeniable that moving forward would entail significant involvement with technology, particularly going online.
However, the two years we spent at home have also shown us how the world can come indoors online, in more ways than one, dragging along its predators and its risks as well. Earlier research conducted by 5Rights and its partner Revealing Reality indicated that “within 24 hours of a social media profile being created, children were being targeted with graphic content.” They went on to state that internet majors such as Facebook, Instagram and TikTok were enabling unsolicited contact from adult strangers who sometimes recommend unsavoury content — from “material related to eating disorders, extreme diets, self-harm and suicide as well as sexualised imagery and distorted body images.”
As Baroness Beeban Kidron, founder and chair, 5Rights Foundation, says in the introduction to the toolkit: “In an increasingly connected world, the need for a safe and enabling digital environment for children has never been greater. Policy makers across the globe are working to define the rules of engagement between children and the digital world.”
The prevalence of child sexual exploitation and abuse is also a major concern, offline, but certainly online too. In 2020, 65 million pieces of child sexual abuse material were reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children of the United States, while many more went undetected.
The toolkit argues that guaranteeing online safety is not just about responding to risks and harms: it means actively designing a digital environment that is safe for every child. “With one in three people online under the age of 18, the centrality of digital technology in children’s lives means that it must be formed with their privacy, safety and rights by design and by default.” Safety online allows young people to thrive, and the toolkit will help build a digital world that young people need.
The child online safety toolkit claims that it is a hands-on, comprehensive guide to making the online world free from harm for children. It builds on existing international agreements and best practices, developed in consultation with international experts from a range of backgrounds. It has accessible worksheets and resources both online and in print to help make child online safety a reality
Among other things, it contains — five things every policymaker needs to know to enshrine child online safety into law and practice, 10 policy action areas with detailed roadmaps and key practical steps needed to make child online safety a reality, a model policy that policymakers can adopt and adapt for their requirements, and downloadable worksheets to create a policy fit for practice. It also holds a glossary of key terms used in online safety and child online safety policy to best practice examples from various countries.
The toolkit separates its obligations into ten subject areas to support the implementation of the following key international agreements and frameworks: the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) General comment No. 25 (2021) on children’s rights in the digital environment; the WeProtect Global Alliance Model National Response; and the International Telecommunication Union’s Guidelines on Child Online Protection. It also tapped into UNICEF’s Draft Policy Guidance on AI for Children, designed to promote children’s rights in government and private sector AI (artificial intelligence) policies and practices, and to raise awareness of how AI systems can uphold or undermine these rights.
The authors say the toolkit is designed to be adaptable to any context. While national contexts may necessarily be different, it is essential that laws and regulations, to the greatest extent possible, use concepts, language and definitions that are aligned and allow for cooperation between law enforcement agencies, as well as cross-border cooperation and understanding.
Ultimately, it depends on nations or organisations within nations entirely — if they want to pick up the toolkit to ensure a safe environment online for children, as well as deliver their commitments to various international conventions that they have signed.