The problem

Increasing numbers of States are censoring children's access to information on spurious grounds of protection - a plain violation of children's rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). [1]

CRIN has become aware of seven States that have passed or proposed laws 'protecting children from information deemed harmful to their health and development'. In particular, a pattern of laws is emerging which criminalise the 'promotion of homosexuality to children'. [2]

Disproportionate restrictions on children's access to information not only ignite and fuel discrimination, but deny children information which can help them to make informed choices and play a role in their own protection. In short, access to information is the basis for all children’s other rights including to life, health and protection.

The problem extends beyond the law. Even in countries with no explicit ban, schools, confidential health services and society as a whole routinely fail to provide children with vital information about sex, sexuality, drug use and mental health - in fact, any issue adults feel uncomfortable talking to children about.

All this is set against a background in which overly broad internet filters - reaching well beyond adult sexual content - are blocking websites containing appropriate information. This includes sexual health information and advice, but even extends to political and advocacy websites.

That is not to say that children should not be protected - there is an obvious need to protect children from violence, obscenity and incitement to hatred, especially within online platforms where they risk the consequences of laying bare their private lives to strangers. But disproportionate restrictions on children’s access to information fuel the notion that children are blank canvases to be painted by adults, rather than human beings with rights, views and feelings of their own, and fail to support them to flourish.

In addition, the misplaced fear that honest information teaches children promiscuity or irresponsibility prevents children from making decisions about their own lives, identifying sources of help, and puts them at risk in their first sexual experience.

Children can and will find ways around restrictions, so if we really want to protect children, we need to support them to think critically and make safe choices based on honest and objective information and discussion. Where restrictions do exist, they should be transparent, adhere to all children's rights and be determined with input from civil society and children themselves.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child on access to information:

'Effective HIV/AIDS prevention requires States to refrain from censoring, withholding or intentionally misrepresenting health-related information, including sexual education information, and that, consistent with their obligations to ensure the right to life, survival and development of the child (article 6), States parties must ensure children have the ability to acquire the knowledge and skills to protect themselves and others as they begin to express the sexuality.'

CRC General Comment on HIV/AIDS

[1] Children’s rights to non-discrimination (article 2), freedom of expression (article 13) and  access to information (article 17) including that related to health (article 24.2e), and education for the benefit of children’s development (article 29).

[2] Lithuania, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. Lithuania, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine all have explicit prohibitions on the distribution of information about homosexuality to children. See a list of these laws.