UNESCO report reveals high levels of violence and bullying in schools

08 October 2018

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Violence and bullying are pervasive in many schools across the world, with physical and sexual bullying occurring most frequently, and being different in any way making children and young people more of a target.  These are the key findings from School violence and bullying: Global status and trends, drivers and consequences, a summary report released by UNESCO at a UN General Assembly side-event organized by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence Against Children, Protecting Children from Bullying and Cyberbullying on Monday, 8 October 2018.

It follows on the heels of information published by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), which reveals one in three teens are bullied worldwide and which reports against a new SDG thematic indicator around school bullying.

The summary report draws on multiple data sources and, in particular, on two largescale international surveys, the Global school-based Student health Survey and Health Behaviour in School aged Children study – which together provide data from 144 countries and territories in all regions of the world.

Of children who are bullied, 16.1% have experienced physical bullying, and 11.2% have experienced sexual bullying. The highest prevalence of physical bullying is reported in the Pacific and sub-Saharan Africa, while for sexual bullying, the highest rates appear in Central America, the Middle East and North Africa.

Data from seven countries in Asia, the Caribbean and sub-Saharan Africa show that one in three girls and one in five boys have experienced sexual violence in school. New forms of sexual violence are also emerging, including sending sexual messages and images online. Data from five countries reveal that between 12% and 22% of children received messages with sexual content in the past year.

Many countries have seen a decline in bullying over time, but fewer have seen a decrease in physical violence. Of the 71 countries and territories with data on bullying, 35 have seen a decrease and of the 29 countries with data on physical fights, 13 have seen a decrease. Although the prevalence of cyberbullying is low compared with other forms of school violence and bullying, the summary report reveals that it is an increasing problem.

“Violence in schools not only impacts physical and mental health, but has adverse educational outcomes, violating the right of children and young people to a quality education,” said UNESCO Director of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development, Soo-Hyang Choi. “This new report presents, for the very first time, a summary of the latest and most comprehensive evidence on the scale, nature, drivers and consequences of school violence and bullying. We trust that it goes a long way towards informing national governments and key stakeholders about the issue, in turn providing safer and more inclusive learning environments across the world.”

Why is happening and what are the consequences?

Key drivers of school violence and bullying include physical appearance, not conforming to gender norms, race and nationality, the summary report finds.

Physical appearance is the most frequent reason reported by students for being bullied. Globally, 15.3% of students who have been bullied report being made fun of because of how their face or body looks, and this was one of the top two most frequent forms of bullying in all regions except for the Middle East, North Africa and the Pacific.

Race, nationality or colour are the second most frequently reported reasons by students for being bullied. Rates above 11% are reported in all regions except for Asia, and Central and South America, with the highest rates in the Pacific and sub-Saharan Africa. Compared to other factors, religion is mentioned by a much smaller percentage of students as a reason for being bullied.

School violence and bullying undermines children’s sense of belonging in school and future aspirations. Children who are frequently bullied are almost three times more likely to feel like an outsider at school than those who are not bullied, and are twice as likely to skip school frequently. They are also more likely to want to leave school after finishing secondary education than students who are not bullied.

Educational outcomes are also lower for children who are bullied. These children receive lower test scores than their non-bullied peers and the more often a student is bullied, the worse their score.

The summary report presents an early release of findings from a full version of the report, to be released by UNESCO in 2019.