Protecting children from violence in school
Every child has the right to go to school and learn, free from fear.
Every child has the right to go to school free from fear. When schools provide quality, inclusive and safe education, children can learn, build friendships and gain the critical skills they need to navigate social situations. In the best circumstances, school puts children on the path to a promising future.
But for too many girls and boys worldwide, school is where they experience violence. Bullying, harassment, verbal abuse, sexual abuse and exploitation, corporal punishment and other forms of humiliation can come at the hands of a peer, a teacher or even a school authority. Many children also experience school violence associated with gang culture, weapons and fighting.
Far from a haven for learning and community, school can be a place of bullying, sexual harassment, corporal punishment, verbal abuse and other forms of violence.
Violence in schools can have serious effects on children’s psychological and physical health.
Children who are subjected to violence may experience physical injury, sexually transmitted infections, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and suicidal thoughts. They may also begin to exhibit risky, aggressive and anti-social behaviour. Children who grow up around violence have a greater chance of replicating it for a new generation of victims.
At its most extreme, violence in and around schools can be deadly. For the tens of millions of children and adolescents living in conflict-affected areas, school too often becomes the front line.
What’s more, violence in school can reduce school attendance, lower academic performance and increase drop-out rates. This has devastating consequences for the success and prosperity of children, their families and entire communities.
- Globally, half of students aged 13–15 – some 150 million – report experiencing peer-to-peer violence in and around school.
- Slightly more than 1 in 3 students between the ages of 13 and 15 experience bullying, and about the same proportion are involved in physical fights.
- Around 720 million school-aged children live in countries where they are not fully protected by law from corporal punishment at school.
- In 2019, the United Nations verified 20 attacks on schools in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 10 on schools in South Sudan, 157 in Syria, and 20 in Yemen.
UNICEF works with governments, schools, teachers, families, children and young people to prevent and respond to violence in schools. We help governments and partners:
- Adopt laws prohibiting corporal punishment and other forms of violence.
- Develop codes of conduct and other safeguarding measures in schools.
- Set up confidential and safe reporting mechanisms in schools.
- Establish a referral mechanism for response services, and monitor and collect data on violence in schools.
- Train teachers and school staff on positive discipline, classroom management and peaceful conflict resolution.
- Develop and implement life skills and social and emotional learning programmes to build the resilience and protective capacity of children and youth.
- Research, monitor and collect data on violence in schools.
Through our #ENDViolence campaign and as part of Safe to Learn – an inter-agency and multi-country initiative dedicated to ending violence in and around schools – UNICEF also works to increase the protection of children, improve learning outcomes, better leverage investments in education, and raise awareness of violence in schools.
More from UNICEF
A Rigorous Review of Global Research Evidence on Policy and Practice on School-Related Gender-Based Violence
Last updated 3 September 2020