Parliament calls for better online protection of children


EU countries should step up their efforts to protect children online through laws and cooperation, a majority of the European Parliament said in a resolution voted on Tuesday (November 20) in Strasbourg. But the Parliament resolution won't help anyone, says the Pirate Party.

The report on protecting children in the digital world, drafted by Italian MEP Silvia Costa (Socialists and Democrats), is calling on member states to prevent illegal online content through a more harmonised approach.

Both public authorities and private institutions should help protecting children online, the report says, calling on the Commission to propose a single framework directive on children's rights in the digital world.

The resolution, although non-binding from a legal viewpoint, could spur the Commission into action, MEPs hope.

"We sought to weigh up the fundamental rights of minors in the digital world – the rights to access, instruction and protection – and to protect their right, as 'digital citizens', under a new form of governance, to develop their interests as persons and European citizens," Costa said.

Ahead of the voting, Costa mentioned that the Parliament was voting on the 53rd anniversary day for the United Nations' expanded version of its declaration of the Rights of the Child. Now it was time to protect the children on a new frontier, she stressed.

The report highlighted the need for children to be taught the potential dangers they face when going online by their families, schools and civil society.

Young people are increasingly making use of social networking sites: 38% of 9 to 12-year-olds and 77% aged 15 and 16 are now signed up to such sites as Facebook.

MEPs recommend that institutional players and internet service suppliers step up EU-wide coordination of hotlines and other contact points to make it easier to report illegal content or abuse and cooperate with police and juvenile justice systems.

They also stress the need to step up cooperation with third countries so that harmful content hosted on their territory can be removed quickly.

'Unnecessary' overprotection

Not all MEPs agreed. A Swedish lawmaker representing the Pirate Party, Amelia Andersdotter, said she voted against the report because it "didn't make much sense".

"I don't think that it's appropriate for the Parliament to encourage private-sector entities to take responsibility for what can be communicated and what cannot be communicated online," Andersdotter told EURACTIV.

"I think that the report also addresses many problems that children actually don't have in the online environment. We are overprotecting children because we fear maybe they have problems. These are our fears rather than the reality," she continued.

Andersdotter referred to the EU Kids Online project, supported by the European Commission, where child grooming for instance was not considered a problem by many children.

"So why would we ask for large-scale measures by the private industry at a European level to combat this problem which isn't a problem? It seems that in many cases we have found lots of solutions that apply arbitrarily to problems that don't exist with the hope that the problem wouldn't arrive. It really is mind-boggling and it does a lot more harm that good," she said.

The Swedish MEP added that the Parliament report definitely wouldn't help any children so therefore there was no point in approving it.

"I'm not opposing regulating the information space in which people move together, but I think we do have to regulate it in such a way that the right actors get the right responsibilities at the right time and this report hasn't fulfilled these requirements," Andersdotter said.

The EU's Safer Internet Programme funds public awareness activities, actions for fighting illegal and harmful content online and actions promoting a safer online environment.

Today, young people and children are amongst the biggest user groups of online and mobile technologies in Europe.

Almost 15 % of internet users who are minors aged between 10 and 17 receive some form of sexual solicitation, and 34 % of them encounter sexual material that they have not searched for.

  • By 2013: Through its Digital Agenda for Europe strategy, the EU Commission will provide the installation of hotlines, enabling the reporting of offensive or harmful online content.

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