Message from President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins on International Day against Bullying and Violence in Schools

I warmly welcome the decision of last year of the General Assembly of UNESCO that designated an annual international day against bullying and violence in schools – including cyber bullying. We mark that United Nations’ day today, the 5th of November.

School-related violence, in all its forms, is a serious infringement, of course, of not only children and adolescents’ rights to education, but to their basic rights to health and well-being.

A recent UNESCO report tells us that almost one-in-three students report having been bullied by their peers at school, at least once in the previous month. A similar proportion are affected by physical violence. Tragically, online and mobile phone bullying are both increasing, with UNESCO finding “a strong connection and continuum between offline and online bullying”.

The UNESCO research also found that most students who are victims of cyber-bullying can report having been previously bullied in school, thus a large percentage of victims of bullying have been bullied both online and offline.

These are appalling findings of deep concern, demonstrating the need for heightened awareness of an issue that demands an appropriate set of policy responses to tackle its far-reaching consequences. This violence, for that is what it is, must be brought to an end with support from all of us.

The consequences of bullying include children and young people finding it difficult to concentrate in class, missing classes, avoiding school activities, playing truant, or dropping out of school altogether. The experience of being bullied has a demonstrable, adverse impact on academic achievement and intellectual and personal development, as well as future education and employment prospects.

It is unacceptable that we would tolerate an atmosphere of anxiety, fear and insecurity that is clearly incompatible with learning. Unsafe pedagogical environments must not be allowed to undermine the quality of education for all learners.

Education at its best delivers security emancipation from sources of fear to children and young adults, such as will enable them to become free, responsible, engaged and participative citizens in an increasingly complex and interconnected world.

Children are the future, they are agents of change within their own schools and communities, and they rightly continue to demand more urgent action on these important issues.

We need strong leadership at every level, with public support, to tackle these issues which affect so many children and young people to the detriment of their education and quality of life, impacting on their future life circumstances and happiness. It requires collaboration between all those involved. It will depend on the community, better teacher training, and improved school environments that will promote tolerance, inclusivity and equality. What is most important is acknowledging that we must address all the root causes of violence and promote a culture of respect for students’ rights and of zero tolerance to bullying and violence.

Ending child and youth violence is possible. Let us all do what we can to achieve this goal as a matter of urgency.

Thank you. Beir beannacht.

School violence and bullying including cyberbullying is widespread and affects a significant number of children and adolescents.

UNESCO Member States declared the first Thursday of November, the International Day against Violence and Bullying at School Including Cyberbullying, recognizing that school-related violence in all its forms is an infringement of children and adolescents’ rights to education and to health and well-being. It calls upon Member States, UN partners, other relevant international and regional organizations, as well as civil society, including non-governmental organizations, individuals and other stakeholders to help promote, celebrate and facilitate the international day.

Almost one in three students has been bullied by their peers at school at least once in the last month and a similar proportion were affected by physical violence. School violence and bullying is mostly perpetrated by peers but, in some cases, by teachers and other school staff. Corporal punishment is still allowed in schools in 67 countries.

There are significant negative effects from the violence, including on academic achievement, mental health, and quality of life in general. 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. They have worse educational outcomes than their peers and are also more likely to leave formal education after finishing secondary school.

Message from Ms Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, on the occasion of the International Day against Violence and Bullying at School, including Cyberbullying:

This 5 November marks the first International Day against Violence and Bullying at School, including Cyberbullying.

The Day was unanimously approved by UNESCO’s 193 Member States at its 40th General Conference.

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.

Protecting our schools also means confronting the problem of bullying, which inflicts physical and emotional suffering on millions of children around the world.

Bullying, which at times has been neglected, minimized or ignored, must be strongly condemned for what it is, a real blight on the world. 

Published in 2019, and conducted in 144 countries, UNESCO’s study “Behind the numbers: Ending school violence and bullying” highlighted the extent of the problem, with almost one in three students worldwide reporting being bullied at least once in the preceding month.

First and foremost, students’ educational outcomes are affected by bullying. For example, young people who are bullied at school are twice as likely to miss classes and see their academic performance suffer. A study conducted in 77 countries showed the negative impact of bullying on girls’ performance in maths and science tests.

Beyond the educational consequences, bullying also affects the well-being and health of students: victims are twice as likely to feel lonely, to have trouble sleeping at night, and even to have suicidal thoughts.

As the choice of name for this International Day indicates, cyberbullying has now also become a growing phenomenon. According to data from seven European countries, the proportion of children aged 11 to 16 who have fallen victim to cyberbullying increased from 7% to 12% between 2010 and 2014. 

At a time when COVID-19 lockdowns, still in place in many countries, have resulted in bullying moving online, we must redouble our efforts. Cyberbullying may take place in a “virtual” world, but it has a very real impact on children’s health.

Beyond the numbers, there are tragic stories, educations ruined, and lives sometimes permanently ripped apart.

UNESCO, as an official partner of the Safe to Learn campaign and the Global Partnership to End Violence against Children is wholeheartedly participating in this collective mobilization against bullying. By providing its expertise, our Organization is ready to support the efforts of Member States working to ensure that schools are places of well-being.

Let us hope that this first International Day against Violence and Bullying at School, including Cyberbullying, will build global awareness about the scale of the problem, and of the need to put an end to it as soon as possible. As students, parents, members of the educational community and ordinary citizens, we have all a part to play in stopping violence and bullying in schools. 

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