Three young people sat down, with one using their phone

Generation Digital

It’s been 30 years since the Children Act 1989 and the birth of the World Wide Web

1989 was a landmark year for children, with the establishment of The Children Act and the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. It was also the year Tim Berners Lee created what would be known as the World Wide Web and go on to transform childhood and adult life too.

Our report

30 years ago children had to knock on their friend’s door or call on their landline to ask if they wanted to go out to play. They watched films on VHS, recorded programmes off the TV, and listened to music on cassettes. They had to go to the shops to buy a new game, or the local library to get a book.

Children born after the digital revolution don’t know any other way. The internet has radically changed the way we learn, play and communicate. It provides incredible new opportunities - from connecting with people across the world to creating and sharing your own content, to accessing different careers. But alongside this, there are new harms - from cyberbullying, online grooming, to exposure to indecent content. 

In the last three decades, our laws and systems have evolved to cover different groups of children and better meet their needs. However, we have not managed to keep pace with technological change and respond effectively to the challenges and risks it creates.

So the question is: does the Children Act 1989 – designed to keep children safe in the offline world –  sufficiently protect children growing up in today’s world? And will it be able to protect them in 30 years’ time when they’ve moved from instant messages and video chat to holograms and robots? 

In our report we identify some immediate changes which are needed to help keep children safe today, but also tomorrow. 

What happens next

We need to keep up momentum on the efforts we’ve made so far to keep children safe online.

We must give children and young people the opportunity to thrive in the digital world, in an environment that keeps them safe. Legislation aimed at protecting children should adopt the key principles of the Children Act - and it needs to be suitable for the digital world.

Read the full report below.