Africa is pioneering the world as the first region to adopt a comprehensive child online safety policy

5Rights Foundation welcomes the adoption of the world’s first comprehensive policy framework for the implementation of children’s rights in the digital environment by the Executive Council at the 37th African Union Summit.

This is a ground-breaking achievement, as the continent, which is home to the youngest population globally, with half of its inhabitants under the age of 18, has become a trailblazer in digital transformation, prioritising children’s safety and empowerment by design and default.

H.E. Dr. Amani Abou-Zeid, Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy at the African Union said:

“The digital world offers enormous opportunities for Africa’s children and youth to learn, connect, and innovate. However, it also presents risks that we must address through policy and action.”

Through this historic milestone, Africa has set a remarkable example for the world, reiterating its proactive approach to addressing the multifaceted challenges posed by digital: online exploitation, harmful content, and privacy violations. This sets a precedent for other regions to follow, fostering a safer and rights respecting digital for future generations.

The AU Policy covers the full range of children’s rights as set out in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its General comment No. 25 on the digital environment, adopted at the UN level in 2021. Its development by African Union representatives and experts was in consultation with a wide range of stakeholders and contributions using the award-winning Child Online Safety Toolkit, designed by 5Rights Foundation and supported by End Violence’s Safe Online initiative.

Marking the adoption of the African Child Online Safety and Empowerment Policy by the Executive Council Amani Abou Zeid said:

“Africa is undergoing a digital revolution that has the potential to pave its way to prosperity and equity, inclusivity, sustainability in an increasingly digital future. In this regard, protecting and nurturing the African child both in the offline and online space is one of the fundamental elements of Africa’s Digital Transformation. We have seen rates of violence against children spiral as they increasingly access the digital environment, so taking rapid action to implement their existing rights has been a priority for the AU.

We are grateful for the support of the 5Rights Foundation and the Child Online Safety Toolkit in contributing to our work in the development of this Policy in line with international best practices, and welcome the support of the international community and all partners for its implementation.”

Leanda Barrington-Leach, Executive Director of the 5Rights Foundation, congratulated the African Union on its ground-breaking policy:

“All governments have expressed their political will to ensure the digital environment respects children’s rights, but few have taken concrete action, and even fewer have committed to a holistic approach that covers everything from corporate responsibility to education and R&D. The African Union is setting a commendable example for the rest of the world, demonstrating that the benefits of the digital world need not come at the price of ignoring children’s rights. On the contrary, African leaders are committed to ensuring their 650 million children have access to a digital world that will serve them and support a better future for all, in Africa and globally. Sustained effort will be needed to implement this vision, and the African Union deserves the support of partners and donors from around the world to make it happen.”

The AU Child Online Safety and Empowerment Policy assesses the opportunities and risks related to digital access for children in Africa, as well as the factors influencing child online safety. The Policy then sets out the key cross-cutting issues to deliver on children’s rights in the digital environment and identifies 10 policy goals for the Continent, ranging from developing institutional capacity and reviewing legal and regulatory frameworks to ensuring corporate responsibility and investing in education and training.

The multi-year implementation plan foresees activities over the different goals, coordinated by a newly-established African Union Child Online Safety Steering Committee.

As we celebrate this momentous achievement, we call upon the African Union, governments, civil society organizations, technology companies, educators, parents, and children throughout Africa for coordinated action and commitment to ensure the successful implementation of the African Union Policy on Child Online Safety and Empowerment.  

Read the announcement from the African Union Infrastructure and Energy Department.