Speaking at a panel discussion on protecting children from bullying, the United Nations envoy on violence against children said bullying is a “serious concern” for millions of children all over the world and it is compromising their right to education.
“With the growing importance of social media in children’s lives, cyberbullying is becoming an increasing source of concern, placing children at risk of harassment and abuse, reaching out quicker and wider, and magnifying vulnerabilities amongst children who are at risk in the offline world,” Marta Santos Pais, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, told delegates attending a side event of the UN General Assembly.
According to the United Nations, bullying presents special risks for children in situations of vulnerability, such as children with disabilities or children affected by migration or who are asylum seekers or refugees. The Convention on the Rights of the Child provides essential guidance to address this phenomenon recalled Mikiko Otani, a child rights expert from Japan, noting that “investment in prevention is key, starting from early years.”
Meanwhile, data presented by the UN World Health Organization (WHO) showed the scale and impact of bullying on children, while the Dutch independent foundation Child Helpline International shared children’s experiences and calls for help when bullying takes place.
Findings revealed that boys are more likely to use physical violence and threats, while girls seem more prone to other forms of bullying, associated with verbal and emotional victimization. Bullying has been found to generate depression, loneliness, anxiety and low self-esteem, humiliation, frustration and anger and is associated with long-lasting consequences for children’s development.
“Bullying is not just a children’s issue,” stressed Kathleen Saint Amand, a 16 year-old representative from the non-governmental organization ATD Fourth World Movement.
“There is no age limit to being a victim of bullying, and no age limit as to who the bully is. Children mirror conflicts in society. Recognizing this can save the future of many children who continue this terrible cycle because of circumstance and lack of knowledge,” she added.
Changu Mannathoko, an education advisor from the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) highlighted that bullying is a barrier to learning and to gaining access to the full cycle of schooling from early childhood to university.
“An effective strategy to eliminate bullying resides in strong investment in community dialogue including young children,” she stressed.
At the same time, UN envoy Santos Pais noted that schools have a unique potential to promote non-violent behaviour by supporting creative, critical, and safe use of the Internet. Schools, she said can also prevent and respond to incidents of online violence, including cyberbullying, even when they do not originate in the school environment.
Over the past years, several countries have reportedly addressed this important question through legislation, public policies, campaigns and research, which are all seen as crucial elements of the integrated response to the phenomenon that needs to be promoted.
“Bullying is a very serious problem and still a taboo in modern societies,” highlighted Marc Dullaert, Ombudsman for Children of the Netherlands and Chair of the European Network of Ombudspersons for Children.
“Incidents remain invisible and unreported,” he continued. “As an Ombudsman for children, I felt the urge to bring this to the legislators’ table. The legislation introduced in the Netherlands now gives clear guidance to schools on how to prevent and respond to bullying. An Ombudsman can bridge national and international policy making and to close the gap between policy making and real implementation.”
In addition, Ambassador Juan Sandoval from Mexico and Ambassador Yoshifumi Okamura from Japan called for a zero tolerance policy on bullying across regions, echoing the strong political commitment around the topic. A representative from Chile pointed to the importance of addressing the most vulnerable groups.
Moving forward, the results of the side-event will inform the UN Secretary General’s report on the protection of children from bullying which will be submitted to the General Assembly in 2016. The report is expected to identify major concerns, document good practices and positive experiences, and anticipate strategic recommendations to inform future action in this area.
“Preventing and addressing bullying will no doubt contribute to the promotion of the safe and non-violent learning environments and to the elimination of physical, sexual and emotional violence that the [Sustainable Development Goals] seek to guarantee,” concluded Ms. Santos Pais.
The SDGs are part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted last month by all UN Member States. Goals number four calls to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”