Children face violence and bullying at school all over the world, with one in every three students subject to attacks at least once a month and one in 10, a victim of cyberbullying, the UN said. Recent attacks on schools in Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Cameroon and Pakistan, and the assassination of teacher Samuel Paty in France, sadly underscore the critical issue of protecting our schools from all forms of violence,” said UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay, in a statement. The warning from UNESCO, the UN organization for education, science and culture, based on 2019 data, coincides with the first International Day against Violence and Bullying at School – Including Cyberbullying, on 5 November.

Given the scale of school violence and bullying highlighted in a 2019 report by UNESCO covering 144 countries, Ms Azoulay insisted on the need to raise global awareness and put a stop to both problems. Based on Global School-based Student Health Survey (GSHS) data from 96 countries and territories, 16.1% of children who have been bullied say that they have been hit, kicked, shoved around or locked indoors. Physical bullying is one of the two most common types of bullying in all GSHS regions except Central America and South America; the highest reported prevalence is in the Pacific and sub-Saharan Africa.

Based on GSHS data from 96 countries and territories, 11.2% of children who have been bullied report being made fun of with sexual jokes, comments or gestures. Sexual bullying is one of the top two most common types of bullying in Central America, the Middle East and North Africa, but in North America and Europe, it was reported less frequently than psychological bullying.

Available data suggest that around one in ten children have experienced cyberbullying. In Canada and Europe, 10.1% have been cyberbullied via messages and 8.2% have been cyberbullied via pictures. The Brazilian Kids Online Survey 2015 found that, among 9-17-year-olds who were Internet users, 20% reported having been subjected to cyberbullying and 12% had behaved offensively online. Data from Argentina, Brazil, the Philippines, Serbia and South Africa also showed that between 12% and 22% of children had received messages with sexual content in the past year

The consequences of bullying can have devastating consequences on academic achievement, school dropout, and physical and mental health, the UN education agency said in a statement. It defined bullying as aggressive behaviour that involves unwanted, negative actions repeated over time and an imbalance of power or strength between the perpetrators and the victims. “Children who are frequently bullied are nearly three times more likely to feel like an outsider at school and more than twice as likely to miss school as those who are not frequently bullied,” UNESCO said. “They have worse educational outcomes than their peers and are also more likely to leave formal education after finishing secondary school.”

School violence and bullying affect male and female students, physical bullying is more common among boys. A person’s physical appearance is the most common cause of bullying, students reported, followed by their race, nationality or skin colour. Psychological abuse is more common among girls, UNESCO continued, after identifying “isolating, rejecting, ignoring, insults, spreading rumours, making up lies, name-calling, ridicule, humiliation and threats” as typical treatment.

Dismissing the widely held belief that bullying is a rite of passage for youngsters and that little can be done to eradicate it, UNESCO insisted that dozens of countries had made great progress in addressing the problem. A political desire for change was key, it noted, along with promoting a caring school environment, training for teachers and mechanisms to report bullying and support for affected students.