China seeks to make the internet a positive force in children's lives

By Eugene Clark and Feng Kai
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, September 7, 2019
Adjust font size:
A 4-year-old girl plays a video game on an ipad in Xi'an, Shaanxi province. [Photo/VCG]

The children of any society are its greatest natural resource for its future success. It is therefore vital that technology be used in a positive way and that potential harm is minimized.

China has the highest number of mobile phone users in the world. Children here, as elsewhere, are gaining access at an increasingly younger age, and spending more minutes a day using them for a variety of purposes. This growth, however, comes at a time when research indicates misuse and overuse of technology may have negative impacts on a child's growth and development. 

Online bullying, premature exposure to the world of adults, security and privacy intrusions are obvious dangers. Less obvious negative impacts are loneliness, isolation, depression, interference with social and cognitive development, addiction to online games/activities and the consequent distractions that keep children from experiencing more educational and positive activities and interactions. 

These developments are occurring amid growing calls in many countries for enhanced consumer data rights protection and a growing awareness of and sensitivity to the privacy issue.

Last June, the Cyberspace Administration of China closed its consultation period regarding new draft rules to make the internet safer for children by preventing them from exposure to harmful information in cyberspace and protecting their information privacy.

The Regulations on the Protection of Minors in Cyberspace apply to "minors," but do not provide a specific definition of that term. In its absence, the existing Law on the Protection of Minors – which defines minors as individuals under the age of 18 – is likely to apply. However, this criterion of age might conflict with those in other law documents, e.g. the newly issued "Provisions on Children's Personal Information Protection Online" protects children who are below fourteen years old. 

The draft provisions require cyberspace operators to examine the information they upload and take measures to delete/screen and report anything that violates laws, administrative regulations and departmental rules to the competent authorities. 

Furthermore, any organization or individual producing, publishing or disseminating information not considered suitable for minors – for example, the information which might induce minors to commit acts of violence, bullying, suicide, self-mutilation, sexual contact, vagrancy and begging – is required to post a warning in a prominent manner before displaying it. 

The burden on the operators to undertake an active examination and to warn of its unsuitability for children appears to be heavier than the legal obligations provided for in article 36 of China's Tort Liability Law, transplanted from the "Safe Harbor Doctrine" of U.S. law.

The draft also requires network operators to make further efforts to enhance the protection of children's personal information. User agreements would be signed with parents or guardians and contain provisions affording greater protection in any network development. 

Operators should collect or use children's personal information only for the previously agreed purpose and within the agreed scope. If there is a business need to use the information for other purposes, or beyond the agreed scope, such use will be subject to the explicit consent of the child's parent or guardian. 

Operators would have to create special rules for their collection and use of the child's personal information online and take necessary measures to delete or block the information relating a child as requested by any child or their parent/guardian.

The draft provisions also provide technical protection, for example, by mandating schools, libraries, cultural centers, youth palaces and other public places to install online protection software to block a minor's access to illegal or unsuitable information. 

Technical measures can also be used to restrict access to prohibited games, limit the time spent online and prohibit minors from using certain services between certain hours, e.g. after midnight until 8 a.m.

The draft measures also provide for various forms of enforcement including development of specific standards, regular government monitoring, restriction of content, taking down of content, requiring users to register using real identification information and requiring operators to take steps to distinguish minors from adults and store their user registration information properly and with due care.

However, these can only be part of a holistic ecosystem of online protection of children, the design, development and implementation of which is multi-faceted and will require ongoing review and evaluation. 

Such an online ecology would include, for example, educational reforms to educate parents and children about appropriate use of the internet and warning of dangers; regular monitoring and reporting of data breaches; encouraging all-round development of technology solutions to check the identity, monitor content and abuses and deploy encryption and other measures that ensure greater online safety.

This requires greater industry commitment to invest in the infrastructure required to build systems that ensure children protection, privacy and security; creating effective partnerships between government regulators and industry that places sufficient emphasis on children protection, privacy and security; and a sharing of best practice examples so that privacy and child protection is constantly improved.

However, it should go further, to ensure sufficient incentives, laws and other measures are in place to enable children to have the space, time and protection required to enjoy a healthy childhood.

Eugene Clark is a columnist with For more information please visit:

Feng Kai is the Director and Associate Professor of the America-China Law Institute at China University of Political Science and Law.

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors only, not necessarily those of

If you would like to contribute, please contact us at

Follow on Twitter and Facebook to join the conversation.
ChinaNews App Download
Print E-mail Bookmark and Share

Go to Forum >>0 Comment(s)

No comments.

Add your comments...

  • User Name Required
  • Your Comment
  • Enter the words you see:   
    Racist, abusive and off-topic comments may be removed by the moderator.
Send your storiesGet more from