Children and young people are disproportionately affected by the risks of the digital world, given both their developmental vulnerabilities and their status as ‘early adopters’ of emerging technologies. They are ‘canaries in the coal mine for threats to us all.’
Despite this, the protections that children and young people enjoy as norms in the offline world do not meaningfully exist online. The digital sector defends its ‘exceptional’ status as unregulated and unregulatable. Governments around the world have yet to legislate for the online protection of children and young people from: ‘content’ risks (e.g. exposure to harmful or age-inappropriate material); ‘contact’ risks (e.g. exposure to unsolicited contact from adults); ‘conduct’ risks (e.g. cyberbullying); and ‘contract’ risks (e.g. data harvesting, commercial pressure and exhortations to gamble).
This lack of coherent, comprehensive child online protection legislation, both at a global level and within individual jurisdictions, has seen the introduction of products and services that pay little regard to, and assume no liability for, the welfare of children and young people.
Digital service providers must be held accountable and liable for the welfare of children and young people. Simply put, the protection of children and young people’s wellbeing is the price of doing business.
Countries must be proactive in introducing legislation in both their own jurisdictions and internationally. The European Union, the UK, and California have all recently demonstrated that jurisdictional action is more than capable of driving global norms.
In addition to introducing new regulation and legislation, there is an urgent need to apply and enforce existing laws, rights and safeguarding obligations to the digital world.
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