Ros Atkins on… How Different Countries Protect Children Online

In an increasingly digital world, the safety and well-being of children online have become paramount concerns for parents, educators, and policymakers globally. As children and teenagers spend more time on the internet for education, entertainment, and social interaction, the risks they face—including cyberbullying, exposure to inappropriate content, and online predators—are growing. In his insightful analysis, Ros Atkins examines how different countries are tackling these challenges through varied approaches to online child protection.

The United Kingdom: Age-Appropriate Design Code

The UK has taken a proactive stance with its Age-Appropriate Design Code, also known as the Children’s Code, which came into force in September 2021. This legislation mandates that digital services likely to be accessed by children must prioritize the best interests of young users. It includes measures such as default privacy settings set to high, minimizing data collection, and offering clear, age-appropriate explanations of terms and conditions. The goal is to create a safer online environment by ensuring that digital products and services are designed with children’s needs in mind.

The United States: COPPA

In the United States, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) has been a cornerstone of online child protection since its enactment in 1998. COPPA requires websites and online services aimed at children under 13 to obtain verifiable parental consent before collecting personal information. Despite its longstanding presence, COPPA faces challenges in adapting to new technologies and platforms that children use today, prompting ongoing discussions about its modernization to address current digital realities.

European Union: GDPR and Parental Consent

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), implemented by the European Union in 2018, includes specific provisions for protecting children’s data. Under GDPR, parental consent is required for processing personal data of children under the age of 16, though individual member states can set this threshold between 13 and 16. GDPR’s stringent data protection measures aim to enhance children’s privacy and give parents more control over their children’s online information.

Australia: eSafety Commissioner

Australia has established the world’s first government agency dedicated to online safety, the eSafety Commissioner. This office provides resources and support for parents, educators, and children, and has the authority to issue takedown notices for harmful online content, including cyberbullying material targeted at children. The eSafety Commissioner also works on educational initiatives to promote digital literacy and resilience among young people.

South Korea: Gaming Restrictions

South Korea, known for its advanced digital infrastructure, has implemented specific regulations to combat gaming addiction among minors. The “Shutdown Law,” introduced in 2011, prohibits children under 16 from playing online games between midnight and 6 a.m. Additionally, South Korea has enforced strict age verification processes and parental control features in online games to help manage screen time and protect children from excessive gaming.

China: Comprehensive Regulations

China has adopted a comprehensive approach to online child protection, with stringent measures governing content and screen time. Chinese authorities have implemented real-name registration for internet users, mandatory time limits for online gaming, and curfews for minors. Furthermore, the Cyberspace Administration of China oversees content regulation to ensure that online material aligns with the country’s cultural and moral standards, aiming to shield children from harmful content.

Balancing Protection and Freedom

While these varied approaches highlight the global effort to protect children online, they also underscore the delicate balance between safeguarding young users and preserving their digital freedoms. Effective child protection strategies must account for cultural, legal, and technological contexts, ensuring that measures are both practical and respectful of children’s rights to privacy and freedom of expression.


Ros Atkins’ examination of international efforts to protect children online reveals a multifaceted landscape where countries adopt different strategies to address a common challenge. As technology continues to evolve, so too must the frameworks designed to protect the youngest and most vulnerable internet users. By learning from each other’s successes and shortcomings, nations can develop more robust and adaptable solutions to ensure that the digital world is a safe and enriching environment for children.

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