• Sonia Livingstone London School of Economics and Political Science
  • Amanda Third Western Sydney University
  • Patrick Burton Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention
  • Sabine Witting Leiden University Center for Law and Digital Technologies
  • Eva Lievens Ghent University
  • Stacey Steinberg University of Florida
  • Shuli Gilutz Tel Aviv University
  • David Souter



Children's Rights, Human Rights, Internet Governance, Privacy, Policy implementation


For too long, child rights advocates knew little about the internet while internet governance experts knew little about children’s rights. In March 2021, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) adopted General Comment 25 (GC25) on children’s rights in relation to the digital environment. A General Comment is an authoritative document which sets out how states should implement the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in specific contexts, such as the digital environment. Like the Convention itself, General Comment 25 needs to apply in wealthier and poorer nations, to governments of all political stripes, and for all children whatever their abilities or circumstances. It has to balance the provision of guidance on a very broad range of issues with adequate depth, so as to be meaningfully applied. And it has to shore up children’s rights today, while also anticipating the risks of harm and the potential benefits associated with future developments in the technological environment. A major cross-sector and international collaborative effort was required to ensure GC25 could achieve its aims. To inform the process, the drafting team coordinated an international public consultation, receiving unprecedented numbers of submissions; consulted with 50 experts from across jurisdictions; and conducted consultations with over 700 children in 27 countries. This process surfaced deep theoretical dilemmas and disagreements, as well as diverse practical challenges for implementing meaningful and actionable digital policy. For the child rights advocates uncertain exactly how to realize rights online as offline, GC25 provides a mandate and agenda. For policymakers uncertain where children fit into ongoing debates over internet governance, GC25 provides explanation and direction. For the public keen for children to thrive in a digital world, no longer ‘canaries in the coal mine,’ GC25 provides the road map for states to generate improvements. For 1000+ children consulted around the world, and the one in three internet users under 18 for whom they spoke, GC25 reflects their views on a matter that affects them greatly. But it is easier to say that rights offline also apply online than it is to achieve this in practice. On publication, GC25 was recognized by OECD, United Nations Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development Goals, ECPAT (the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children), International Telecommunication Union, UNESCO, WeProtect Global Alliance, World Childhood Foundation USA, World Health Organization and the European Commission. However, it is states rather than regional or other bodies who are the primary duty bearers bound to implement the Convention and its General Comments under international law. GC25 landed on the desk of every government in the world, and they must ensure that all duty bearers within their jurisdiction meet their responsibilities to children’s rights – including businesses and others whose activities significantly impact on children. Introduced and chaired by members of the GC25 drafting team responsible for the international consultations among stakeholders and children, this panel discusses ongoing efforts to interpret and implement GC25. Conceiving the child as a limit case for policy development, and recognising that, far from abstract legal principles, children’s rights come to life at the level of children’s everyday experiences, the panel will reflect on the difficulties of generating policy guidance to protect and uphold children’s rights in a digital age. It highlights the particular challenges for communication policy and law, including generating the evidence base and meaningful participation from children regarding child online protection policy in Zimbabwe (paper 1), aligning state with regional policies in Europe so as to provide a coordinated and rights-respecting framework for internet governance (paper 2), reconciling parents’ responsibilities with children’s rights regarding privacy in the US (paper 3), and translating child rights-respecting initiatives into designing digital products and services used by children (paper 4). While four papers cannot capture the full range of issues that arise in relation to children’s rights in the digital environment, the panel represents perspectives from three very different continents which contrasting approaches both to children and to internet governance. Through their commonalities and differences, the panel will seek to open a dialogue that represents diverse experiences across cultures and contexts, including the struggles and possible contestation that UN initiatives can occasion. A respondent to all four papers will reflect on the challenges of promoting coordination and implementing child rights-respecting governance in contexts of global inequality and conflict. Building on his role as expert advisor to the United Nations, he will suggest a framework for advancing the recommendations of General Comment internationally, before opening up the discussion for participation among the chairs, panellist and delegates.




How to Cite

Livingstone, S., Third, A., Burton, P., Witting, S., Lievens, E., Steinberg, S., … Souter, D. (2023). THE UN COMMITTEE ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD’S GENERAL COMMENT ON THE DIGITAL ENVIRONMENT. AoIR Selected Papers of Internet Research, 2022.