The internet gives children and adolescents many participation opportunities and it also provides them with information. New sites are continually emerging online in which minors can become victims of sexual violence. Existing laws and regulations often lag far behind technical developments or they are completely lacking. Therefore protecting children and adolescents must be extended to include the online world. Existing child protection regulations must also be updated or supplemented to include any new developments.
Protecting minors in Germany: The new Youth Protection Law
Protecting children and adolescents from harmful media is regulated in Germany through the Protection of Young Persons Act (JuSchG). The Protection of Young Persons Actwas reformed on the 1st of May 2021 to cope with developments in the online world. This law tries to find answers to the phenomena known as cyber-grooming and cyber-bullying. It is also intended to minimise the risk of children and adolescents becoming victims of online sexual violence.
1. The "personal integrity” concept
The personal integrity of children and adolescents when using the media is explicitly mentioned in the law as a result of the Youth Protection Law having being reformed. It assumes that a child's ability to deal with the media develops as the child gets older and that attitudes towards the protecting of children must take this development level into consideration.
2. Obligation to implement structural precautionary measures
Under the new Youth Protection Law, online services are obliged to implement appropriate and effective structural precautionary measures to protect the personal integrity of children and adolescents. These include secure default settings for limiting the risk of specific sites being used by children and adolescents, low-threshold reporting and help systems, using general terms and conditions that are suitable for children and adolescents or implementing age verification systems.
3. Age classifications
The new Protection of Young Persons Actmodernises the regulations covering age classifications for computer games and films in order to provide reliable guidance for parents, professionals as well as the adolescents. Streaming providers and gaming platforms are also subject to the age classification obligation.
4. Federal Authority for Protecting Children and Adolescents when using the Media
The former Federal Review Board for Media Harmful to Minors will become the Federal Authority for Protecting Children and Adolescents when using the Media. It will supervise the new obligations of online providers. It will also promote the networking of all important actors involved in protecting children and adolescents when using the media. It must be pointed out that a children's and adolescents' advisory board will be created at the Federal Authority for Protecting Children and Adolescents and it will cover specific interests. Children and adolescents will be represented on an advisory board at a federal authority for the first time.
The new Protection of Young Persons Actintroduces a very high standard of protection and its provisions will specifically implement the basic principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, such as participation, empowerment and protecting children. Germany is one of the first countries to implement many of the provisions included in the 25th General Comment on the Rights of Children in the Online Environment (PDF download).
Tasks of the Federal Authority for Protecting Children and Adolescents
The tasks of the Federal Authority for Protecting Children and Adolescents in the media are:
1. Maintaining a verifying authority that evaluates media that might be harmful to youngsters
2. Promoting the further development of child and adolescent media protection through:
- promoting a joint assumption of responsibility by the state, business and civil society to coordinate an overall strategy for realising the protection aims of child and adolescent media protection (protection from media that impairs development and is harmful to youngsters, protecting personal integrity and promoting guidance)
- Utilising the findings about the effects of media on children and adolescents and guidance help for children and adolescents, parents and professionals and promoting public discourse
- Regular exchanging of information with institutions that are active in the child and adolescent media protection sector
3. Monitoring compliance with the new provider obligations
Dealing with abuse images
Dealing with abuse images plays a central role from a legal perspective in addition to the legal requirements under the prevention context. Other regulations must also be implemented in addition to the legal consequences associated with possessing, acquiring or distributing child and adolescent pornographic material.
The Network Enforcement Act (NetzDG) is especially important here. The law aims to combat hate crimes more effectively, and to criminalise false news and other criminal content such as abuse images posted on social network platforms.
The survivors should be able to report a post or comment directly if they consider it unlawful. Following a report, networks have 24 hours to delete the respective criminal content.
From 2022 onwards and in addition to the deletion obligation, a reporting obligation will also come into force for platforms to report specific offences - including the possession, acquisition or distribution of child pornography material - directly to the Federal Criminal Police Office.
Voluntary detection measures by online service providers
A number of online service providers around the world are participating in voluntary detection, reporting and deletion of child pornographic material. This action by online providers is currently protected by a European transitional regulation. The EU’s long-term plan is to legally oblige online providers to do this.
International and European guidelines about children's rights in the online world
Various international and European regulations apply to protecting children's rights in the online world.
The 25th General Comment on the Rights of Children in the Online Environment
On the 24th of March 2021 the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child published its 25th General Comment about the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and it provides an official interpretation of how countries can meet their obligations defined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child as part of their digitisation processes. The General Comment aims to make visible the potential of digitisation for realising children's rights and to simultaneously address the associated risks.
These rights can be visualised as a triangle by putting participation rights into practice at the top, the best interests of the child in the centre and having the protection and empowerment rights at the base. Countries can then be called upon to create general legal conditions and incentives for companies or to develop effective protective measures that will prevent online sexual abuse. 709 children and adolescents were involved in drafting the General Comment. UBSKM is also part of a German expert group for children's rights in the online world that is working on implementing the General Comment.
On the 24th of March 2021, the European Commission adopted the first comprehensive children's rights strategy (2021 - 2024) at European level. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is considered to be a European Union policy-maker in this area. One of the six topics included in the strategy covers children's right to safety in the online environment and how to use the opportunities that it offers. Some legal instruments and policy initiatives have already been developed and implemented at European level: For example, the Audiovisual Media Services Directive has been revised so that video platforms are required to restrict children's access to harmful content. An update of the European strategy for a better internet for children is planned for 2022.
More information about the international requirements with regard to the children's rights and digital matters context