Around the World, Bullying and Cyber-bullying are at the Top of Children’s Concerns

8 October 2018, New York - Whether online or in person, bullying is at the top of children’s concerns in countries around the world.  Globally, more than 1 in 3 students between 13-15 years of age experience bullying, which compromises their health, emotional well-being, school performance and is associated with devastating life-long consequences.

“While bullying and cyberbullying are top concerns for children and young people, with the adoption of the 2030 Agenda, and in particular SDG target 16.2 to end all forms of violence against children and SDG target 4.a to promote a safe learning environment for all, they are now also key priorities for the international community,” said the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children (SRSG-VAC), Marta Santos Pais.

To generate better understanding of the scope and risks of bullying and cyberbullying, the Office of the SRSG-VAC and the Permanent Missions of Mexico and Lithuania, in cooperation with UNICEF and UNESCO, hosted a high-level panel discussion at the UN to highlight key findings and recommendations of the new Report of the Secretary-General ‘Protecting children from bullying’. Experts from these organizations, along with the former Ombuds for Children in Greece and the Director of the Children’s Helpline in Lithuania, shared latest data and good practices to prevent and address this form of violence.

“While bullying continues to occur at - or on the way to - school, the new threat of cyberbullying can occur 24 hours per day, seven days a week, reaching a limitless global audience in a fraction of a second and risking being in cyber-space forever. Children who are bullied online feel a sense of isolation, loneliness and despair that is uniquely devastating. The negative impacts of bullying and cyberbullying on children’s lives are all too real and all too crushing on their self-esteem and on their health and education, and yet these incidents may be missed by adults or simply perceived as part of growing up,” said SRSG-VAC Santos Pais.

Some of the key highlights of the new Secretary-General’s Report include:

  • The importance of laws and policies to address bullying and protect children from harm, together with strong partnerships and awareness raising campaigns initiated across a wide range of stakeholders to inform and empower children, and to support families, schools and communities to prevent bullying and promote effective responses
  • Bullying and cyberbullying have serious, long-lasting impacts on the enjoyment of children’s rights, but also show how investments in prevention and children’s empowerment, along with whole-school approaches, lead to a clear reduction in risk and in enhanced protection of children
  • Children’s views and recommendations on how to prevent and respond to all forms of bullying are crucial in overcoming the empathy gap that leads to bullying and in developing effective solutions
  • The need for sound data and research is also critical to inform advocacy, policies and laws and to take key decisions grounded in solid evidence.

The Secretary-General’s Report highlights three critical areas where greater investment will help accelerate progress in children’s protection from bullying:

  • Violence prevention must start in early childhood: exposure to toxic stress, domestic violence and a violent family environment has an irreversible impact on the development of very young children. Children who bully others are almost twice more likely to have been exposed to domestic violence than other children
  • The role of teachers cannot be overemphasized: teachers play a decisive role when they model positive behavior and promote a culture of respect and safety, and when they have the skills and support to detect and intervene early on when children are at risk
  • Bullying knows no borders, and it happens in the context of sports: competitive environments, with excessively high expectations on athletes’ performance, can easily lead to humiliation, shaming and exclusion of those who fail to win. And, where complaining is seen as a sign of weakness, incident reporting is extremely low, drop-out rates are high and systematic response are inadequate.

To further draw attention to how deeply bullying and cyberbullying impact the lives of millions of children every day, following the panel discussion, the SRSG-VAC together with It’s an exhibit, of course! UNICEF opened a new, innovative, multimedia experience - the Cyber Cocoon Kids - at the UN.

The interactive exhibit features four sculptures of children wrapped in fiber optic webs - the Cyber Cocoon Kids. Through a combination of light, sound and form, each Cyber Cocoon Kid represents cyberbullying and other online risks that children around the world face. The thought-provoking exhibit is on display at the UN Delegates’ Entrance, UN Headquarters in New York, from 8-19 October.

The Cyber Cocoon Kids exhibit was originally presented at the Fourth World Internet Conference, in December 2017 in Wuzhen, Republic of China. Creative Director Kevin Wang and Artist Xie Yong developed the powerful concept of Cyber Cocoon Kids to portray the isolation children feel when living in the cyber world. Each Cyber Cocoon Kids figure is enhanced by sound and light to immerse the viewer and enhance their experience of the risks for children in the online world: 

  • The figure representing Cyberbullying is accompanied by the cruel comments that child victims often endure, and which cause serious and long-lasting distress
  • The sculpture depicting Online Child Sexual Abuse highlights the concerns that children feel when asked to share intimate photos 
  • The figure representing Excessive Use of the Internet portrays the intensity of life in cyberspace, including children’s addiction to gaming
  • The sculpture depicting Oversharing of Personal Information highlights the dangers of sharing private information, including name, age, location and bank details of parents.

“Ending all forms of violence against children, including bullying and cyberbullying - whether on the playground or across cyberspace - is crucial to safeguarding children’s rights and to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, including SDG target 16.2. Children are uniquely placed experts in ending violence because they are the ones who experience its harmful effects,” said SRSG-VAC Santos Pais. “Listening to children, empowering them and supporting their participation to find solutions is crucial to preventing online risks to children and to ensuring their right to grow up safe and protected so they can develop to their full potential,” concluded SRSG-VAC Santos Pais.

“It will get better. There is always someone to talk to. Whether that’s your mum, sister, teacher or peer.

There is someone who wants to help; and you have to let them.”

Secondary school student.

You can view SRSG-VAC Marta Santos Pais’ 9 October 2018 Statement to the Third Committee at the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly, speaking to Agenda item 70(a): Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Children, by clicking here: SRSG-VAC Santos Pais’ statement begins at 1:15:40.

UN Resolution Promotion and protection of the rights of children: Protecting children from bullying (9 November 2018)