Next steps for an EU digital policy that protects and empowers children online

Eurochild develops in collaboration with members a roadmap outlining the next steps needed for the European Union to promote children’s rights in the digital environment.

As the European Institutions resettle after the European elections last month, it is a crucial moment for civil society to take stock of what is working and what is further needed from the European policy-makers. The European Union has achieved much these last years in building business accountability towards the respect for children’s rights in digital environments. The work with Safer Internet Centres under the Better Internet for Kids+ Strategy at national level has strengthened the network of child helplines and hotlines and support services to children across the EU. At a regulatory level, the provisions for Safety-by-design for minors under the Digital Services Act (DSA) are already pushing the bar for online platforms to respect children’s rights to privacy, protection and provision.

However, challenges remain for the renewed European Institutions to address in the next mandate starting in the summer of 2024. In this framework, in April, 20 child rights organisations called on the Council of the EU to prioritise children’s rights in the development, implementation and enforcement of all relevant digital policies, legislations and initiatives.

Substantial gaps remain to ensure children are protected and empowered online, especially in terms of advancing the accountability of online platforms by effectively implementing the Digital Services Act. In parallel, there is a need to advance in policies that promote digital age-appropriate experiences through the Better Internet for Kids+ Strategy and the EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child. To facilitate compliance of the existing regulatory tools, the EU must support and facilitate robust age assurance tools and standards.

Most urgently, the EU needs to step up the compromise to protect children from child sexual abuse online ensuring strong criminal law frameworks at national level and allowing online platforms to detect, remove and report all forms of child sexual abuse. Child sexual abuse remains one of the main concerns raised by Eurochild members in terms of online safety, growing exponentially as new forms of abuse evolve (i.e., AI-generated material). This is confirmed by the VOICE research, where children expressed worries on how their pictures and videos can be misused or on being contacted by strangers with malicious intentions. With the exponential growth of material of recent years, urgent and harmonised action is needed to stop the child sexual abuse crisis.

Eurochild has developed an extended roadmap in collaboration with their members to guide EU policy-makers in ensuring a safer internet for all children in Europe, where they can exercise their rights and develop as healthy digital citizens.

For further information, please contact Fabiola Bas Palomares, Lead Policy & Advocacy Officer on Online Safety.

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