*This article is adapted from my new report, COVID-19: Expectations and Effects of Children Online.
COVID-19 has affected the lives of billions of people across the world, with unprecedented peacetime restrictions imposed. The reaction has been an extraordinary digital migration; a migration online to maintain some form of normality in terms of social, economic, entertainment and learning.
The increased use of digital infrastructure and services is clear to see right across the sector and resulted in a challenge for providers to meet the heightened demand and maintain access to their services. As Margrethe Vestager, the European Union’s digital chief pointed out: “We have had a full-scale crash test of everything digital.”
When it comes to online technology, children are usually early adopters and sadly face threats and harms online. As the global pandemic and associated digital migration intensified, organisations started to highlight the increased risk of harm to children.
The predictions of threats and harms have highlighted a broad range of impacts on children, spanning child sexual exploitation and child sexual abuse material online through the impact of the restrictions and school closures on children’s health and wellbeing.
Whilst helpful to focus the mind and support preventative measures, appreciating the realisation of predictions is important. Whilst still a matter of weeks into the global pandemic, evidence of impact on children has started to emerge, published by organisations and youth groups as they share their experience and data. This is helpful in understanding the emerging impact on children online and compiled in this report
In terms of the early evidence published, this would suggest that:
• Whilst many children have access to technology and connectivity, this is not universal and the ‘digital divide’ will have an impact
• In terms of child sexual abuse content online, there has been an increase of individuals searching for child sexual abuse content, alongside an increase in access to adult content online.
• Children have reported heightened anxiety associated with the pandemic and restrictions
• Parents are anxious that their children’s education will be impacted
It is important to continue to consider the impact on children online and appreciate the evidence of impact especially as different phases of the pandemic progresses.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child defines that children have the right to be safe from violence (Article 19) and the right to education (Article 28).
Policymakers will need to consider and accommodate the impacts of COVID-19 on children for many years to come. There will, without doubt, be a lasting impact on children from COVID-19.