Yesterday, the European Economic and Social Committee in its plenary session adopted two opinions that argue for introducing more measures that would protect children against harmful advertising and damaging online content.
"More and more often, children, including very young children, have access to a television and the internet alone and unsupervised. 38% of children between the ages of 9 and 12 already have an online profile, and this figure rises to 78% for 13-16 year olds. We need to monitor this new reality" said Jorge Pedago Liz, who was the rapporteur for the EESC on the opinion on advertising aimed at young people and children. (EESC slates harmful ads and pushes for balance of e-commerce and kids' safety)
The EESC believes that the EU should introduce a coherent framework that would protect young Europeans by introducing certain restrictions on advertising directed at them (not only in audio-visual media but also in online advertising), with special attention being placed on food advertising (due to concerns about children obesity and eating disorders). Advertising aimed at children is seen as having a potential of harming their physical, mental or moral health (e.g., by encouraging children to over-consumption, which could lead to debt and consumption of harmful products). One of the EESC' recommendations is to set at the European level a universal minimum age for advertising specifically aimed at children. The EESC advises also to enrich the current school curricula by teaching children how to interpret advertising messages and how to properly use information technologies.
The second opinion focuses exclusively on the protection of children online. The European Strategy for a Better Internet for Children calls for stricter rules, especially in case of infringements having been discovered. The sanctions should include closure of the infringing websites and withdrawal of licenses (e.g., if data protection rules were breached or the website promoted child pornography) and cannot be left to the market to self-regulate. The EESC is worried that the European Commission in pursuing its Digital Agenda will place more importance on the business growth instead of on making sure that the highest level of children protection online is assured. This could be seen in the previous Communication of the European Commission (COM(2012) 196 final) where only generic commitments have been made.
The full texts of the opinions may be found here.