Guidelines for Industry on Child Online Protection

An overview of the recently published revised Guidelines for Industry on Child Online Protection, and the five key areas highlighted for protecting and promoting children’s rights.

Last week, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) announced the release of updated Guidelines for Industry on Child Online Protection, which it has prepared in collaboration with the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF). The Guidelines, which is geared towards the ICT industry, seek to “promote safety for children using the Internet or any technologies or devices that can connect to it, as well as guidance on how to enable responsible digital citizenship, learning and civic participation” (Source: ITU).

Throughout its existence, ICT Pulse has published a number of articles on online safety, and also on the safety of children online. The perspective of those articles typically is from that of the individual – how ‘you’ can be safer online, or how ‘you as a parent or guardian’ can better protect children. However, these Guidelines seek to involve industry in making the Internet, including Internet based services and technologies, safer for our children. Hence the Guidelines aim to achieve the following:


  • Establish a common reference point and guidance to the ICT and online industries and relevant stakeholders.
  • Provide guidance to companies on identifying, preventing and mitigating any adverse impacts of their products and services on children’s rights.
  • Provide guidance to companies on identifying ways in which they can promote children’s rights and responsible digital citizen- ship among children.
  • Suggest common principles to form the basis of national or regional commitments across all related industries, while recognizing that different types of businesses will use diverse implementation models

(Source: ITU)

Document structure

The Guidelines comprises two parts. In Part 1, which is focussed on industry in general, sets out guidelines protecting children’s safety when using ICTs, and recommendations for promoting positive ICT use and developing responsible digital citizenship among children. Part 2, details sector-specific checklists for the following sectors:

  • mobile/cellular operators
  • Internet service providers
  • content providers, online retailers and applications (app) developers
  • user-generated content, inter- active and social media service providers
  • national and public service broadcasters
  • hardware manufacturers, operating system developers and app stores.

Five key areas for protecting and promoting children’s rights

In the background to the Guidelines, the authors are quick to point out that ICTs “profoundly changed the ways in which children interact with and participate in the world around them” (Source: ITU). More importantly, the international Convention on the Rights of the Child, which sets out the civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights of children, require governments, industry, all segments of society, in addition to their families to ensure that children’s rights are satisfied. In relation to the online space, the Guidelines identified the following five general areas for attention. Examples for each area have been drawn directly from Part 1 of the document.

1.  Integrating child rights considerations into all appropriate corporate policies and management processes

The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights call on all businesses to put in place appropriate policies and processes to meet their responsibility to respect human rights. When these guiding principles are considered within the context and responsibilities under the Convention for the Rights of the Child, it is incumbent on organisations, particularly those who work with youth and children, to pay special attention to their needs for data protection and freedom of expression.

2.  Developing standard processes to handle child sexual abuse material

Although many go countries have laws prohibiting child abuse and pornography, the majority of them still do not have adequate systems in place. Hence greater collaboration is needed between industry, civil society, government and law enforcement to support the existing legal framework. Examples of actions institutions can take to help prevent their networks and services from being misused to disseminate child sexual abuse material include:

  • adopting clearly worded policies and codes of conduct explicitly prohibiting those activities, which are followed up with prompt and consistent action, and
  • configuring networks to block access to websites/web addressee confirmed by an appropriate authority as containing child sexual abuse material.

3.  Creating a safer and age-appropriate online environment

The Guidelines indicate that children are exposed to three key types of risk from being online: inappropriate content; inappropriate conduct; and inappropriate contact. Ways in which industry can do their part to limit those risks include:

  • establishing acceptable use policies that set out the expected behaviour by both adults and children, along with the types of activities are not acceptable, and the consequences of any breaches to these policies
  • implementing age-verification systems that permit access to appropriate content
  • placing restrictions on children’s consumption of certain content and services.

 4.  Educating children, parents and teachers about children’s safety and their responsible use of ICTs

From an industry perspective, organisations can help children, parents and teachers by developing programmes designed to enable users to make informed decisions about content and services. For example, and in addition to education-related initiatives, signposting age-sensitive content, clearly detailing programme content, and procedures to opt-out of subscriptions systems, were recommended.

5.  Promoting digital technology as a mode for increasing civic engagement

Although industry is being required to contribute to child online safety, they also need to ensure that children’s rights to freedom of expression and being online are not suppressed. In that regard, organisations can aim foster children and youth participation, and make available child/age-group appropriate tools and content to create safe yet enabling online experiences.


Image credit:  Hector Milla / flickr