Criminalisation of children’s online behaviour

The criminalisation of children’s online behaviour can take a variety of forms, including criminal activity committed as a result of cyber grooming and recruitment by adults or peers, unknowing civil or criminal infractions (e.g., defamation), possession and sharing of self-generated images or videos regarded as child sexual abuse material and sexting, and cyberbullying.

In particular, cyberbullying is defined as “wilful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices”.[i] The complexity of the digital medium and the implications for minority children create difficulties in discerning how to best approach legislation pertaining to cyberbullying and the criminalisation of online behaviour.[ii]

Policies on online behaviour must distinguish severe offensive online behaviours that merit legal attention from immature online behaviours that should be handled outside of the legal framework. Child-friendly justice systems must have clear and comprehensive laws that can protect children from re-victimisation, provide child-sensitive reporting procedures and effective remedies, and repair the harm done, while preventing the criminalisation of children. Comprehensive training and awareness must be initiated for justice system actors and others dealing with children and online behaviour.


[i] Hinduja, Sameer, and Justin Patchin. “Cyberbullying: Identification, Prevention, and Response.” Cyberbullying Research Center, 2010,
[ii] Berkman Center for Internet and Society, “Cyberbullying: Should Cyberbullies be Prosecuted?”, available at:, Dec. 3, 2019.


Disclaimer: Authors are the Global Initiative on Justice with Children with pro-bono support from Baker McKenzie. This section represents one among other positions of some members of the World Congress Consortium and does not necessarily represent the view of all institutions and members  involved.