7 April 2021

On March 24th, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child - the body of 18 Independent experts that monitors implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child by its State parties - issued recommendations to protect children’s rights in the digital environment.

General Comment No. 25 (2021) includes numerous provisions on children’s rights in the digital world. Among the areas addressed is a specific section on the right to education in relation to the digital environment (we can add the relevant para number). The full text is available here and the articles pertaining to the right to education can be found copied below. In summary, it concludes that:

  • Digital technologies play an important role in formal and non formal learning, access to education and engagement with teachers and among learners;
  • States should enhance access to digital resources from a variety of cultural institutions in a language children understand, while promoting opportunities for lifelong learning;
  • States should invest in technology and digital resources for schools, but must do so in an equitable manner that does not exacerbate existing inequalities, and does not replace in-person education;
  • Digital technology can play an important role for those in remote areas or in situations of disadvantage; states should develop infrastructure alongside guidance on home learning for caregivers, while ensuring that distance learning provisions do not create or intensify iniquities to the right to access to education;
  • States should develop evidence-based policy, standards and guidelines to regulate the use of digital technologies, in particular to ensure the protection of childrens’ rights;
  • Digital literacy should be taught throughout the school career, to ensure children and young people can safely, appropriately and effectively use digital resources. Curricula should pay particular attention to awareness raising around digital risks and digital harms, equipping young people with knowledge and skills to protect themselves;
  • Understanding the digital environment is increasingly important for children, but they must understand the possibilities and the risks. Teachers should be trained on safeguarding in the digital environment.
  • The General Comment recognises the role and potential of digital technologies, but insists that “the rights of every child must be respected, protected and fulfilled in the digital environment. Children should have access to age-appropriate and empowering digital content and information from a wide diversity of trusted sources.”

The guidance is the product of a two-year consultation with States parties, inter-governmental organizations, civil society, national human rights institutions and children. As part of the process, hundreds of children and young people from 27 countries were consulted on how digital technology impacts their rights, and what actions they want to see taken to protect them.

The full text is available here, and the accompanying OHCHR press release can be found here.


General comment No. 25 (2021) on children’s rights in relation to the digital environment

XI. Education, leisure and cultural activities
       A.  Right to education

99.  The digital environment can greatly enable and enhance children’s access to high-quality inclusive education, including reliable resources for formal, non-formal, informal, peer-to-peer and self-directed learning. Use of digital technologies can also strengthen engagement between the teacher and student and between learners. Children highlighted the importance of digital technologies in improving their access to education and in supporting their learning and participation in extracurricular activities.[1]

100. States parties should support educational and cultural institutions, such as archives, libraries and museums, in enabling access for children to diverse digital and interactive learning resources, including indigenous resources, and resources in the languages that children understand. Those and other valuable resources can support children’s engagement with their own creative, civic and cultural practices and enable them to learn about those of others.[2] States parties should enhance children’s opportunities for online and lifelong learning.

101. States parties should invest equitably in technological infrastructure in schools and other learning settings, ensuring the availability and affordability of a sufficient number of computers, high-quality and high-speed broadband and a stable source of electricity, teacher training on the use of digital educational technologies, accessibility and the timely maintenance of school technologies. They should also support the creation and dissemination of diverse digital educational resources of good quality in the languages that children understand and ensure that existing inequalities are not exacerbated, such as those experienced by girls. States parties should ensure that the use of digital technologies does not undermine in-person education and is justified for educational purposes.

102. For children who are not physically present in school or for those who live in remote areas or in disadvantaged or vulnerable situations, digital educational technologies can enable distance or mobile learning.[3] States parties should ensure that there is proper infrastructure in place to enable access for all children to the basic utilities necessary for distance learning, including access to devices, electricity, connectivity, educational materials and professional support. They should also ensure that schools have sufficient resources to provide parents and caregivers with guidance on remote learning at home and that digital education products and services do not create or exacerbate inequities in children’s access to in-person education services.

103. States parties should develop evidence-based policies, standards and guidelines for schools and other relevant bodies responsible for procuring and using educational technologies and materials to enhance the provision of valuable educational benefits. Standards for digital educational technologies should ensure that the use of those technologies is ethical and appropriate for educational purposes and does not expose children to violence, discrimination, misuse of their personal data, commercial exploitation or other infringements of their rights, such as the use of digital technologies to document a child’s activity and share it with parents or caregivers without the child’s knowledge or consent.

104. States parties should ensure that digital literacy is taught in schools, as part of basic education curricula, from the preschool level and throughout all school years, and that such pedagogies are assessed on the basis of their results.[4] Curricula should include the knowledge and skills to safely handle a wide range of digital tools and resources, including those relating to content, creation, collaboration, participation, socialization and civic engagement. Curricula should also include critical understanding, guidance on how to find trusted sources of information and to identify misinformation and other forms of biased or false content, including on sexual and reproductive health issues, human rights, including the rights of the child in the digital environment, and available forms of support and remedy. They should promote awareness among children of the possible adverse consequences of exposure to risks relating to content, contact, conduct and contract, including cyberaggression, trafficking, sexual exploitation and abuse and other forms of violence, as well as coping strategies to reduce harm and strategies to protect their personal data and those of others and to build children’s social and emotional skills and resilience.

105. It is of increasing importance that children gain an understanding of the digital environment, including its infrastructure, business practices, persuasive strategies and the uses of automated processing and personal data and surveillance, and of the possible negative effects of digitalization on societies. Teachers, in particular those who undertake digital literacy education and sexual and reproductive health education, should be trained on safeguards relating to the digital environment.

                     [1]   “Our rights in a digital world”, pp. 14, 16 and 30.
                     [2]   General comment No. 17 (2013), para. 10.
                     [3]   Joint general recommendation No. 31 of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women/general comment No. 18 of the Committee on the Rights of the Child (2019), para. 64; and Committee on the Rights of the Child, general comment No. 11 (2009), para. 61; and general comment No. 21 (2017), para. 55.
                     [4]   General comment No. 20 (2016), para. 47.