No one should be afraid to go to school. Yet for far too many students around the world, school is a dangerous place. Of the more than 1 million children and young people from 160 countries who responded to a UNICEF survey, two-thirds said they worry about violence in and around school.
The students shared their experiences of bullying, sexual harassment and corporal punishment — and provided ideas on what students, parents, teachers and governments can do to make schools safer.
Last December, a group of more than 100 young people from countries in Africa, Asia and the Americas convened in South Africa to draw up a set of recommendations detailing what they need to feel protected in and around school. At the event — hosted by UNICEF, Global Citizen, JCI and the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children — the students drafted the #ENDviolence Youth Manifesto. Below, some strategies for making school a safe place for all:
PROMOTE RESPECT AND REPORT VIOLENCE. Peer mediators demonstrate a case of bullying at Branko Radicevic School in Mitrovica North, Kosovo. Bullied as an 11-year-old, Snazana Dzogovic, 16 (right), now teaches students how to identify and report bullies and ways to respect difference and resolve conflict. © UNICEF/UN0220913/Babajanyan VII Photo
TRAIN TEACHERS AND COUNSELORS TO USE POSITIVE DISCIPLINE. A UNICEF-supported professional development program in Cambodia teaches school personnel how to use positive discipline to reinforce good behavior, instead of resorting to corporal punishment. At Peam Ror School in Svay Rieng Province, Cambodia, teachers trained by UNICEF give students warnings using a card system like that used by soccer referees. After two yellow cards, a red card means a visit to the school director's office and a possible meeting with parents. © UNICEF/UN0235547/Llaurado
RESPOND TO SEXUAL VIOLENCE. Elsa (name changed), 16, was sexually harassed by her math teacher in Villanueva, Honduras. "I was very good at math, but from the beginning, he kept saying that I didn't know anything," she said. "He said, 'If you want to pass my class, you need to have intercourse with me or send pictures of your body.' I was so scared and uncomfortable in class that I didn't want to go to school anymore." She changed schools to get away from him. "Now I'll study for a career in tourism," she said. "I've lost all interest in math." © UNICEF/UN0232618/Zehbrauskas
BE KIND. "I am committed to ending violence because we are all human beings," said UNICEF Youth Advocate Muhd Saiful Ikhwan bin Musa from Malaysia, one of more than 100 young people and children who gathered in Sandton, South Africa in December 2018 to draft the UNICEF #ENDviolence Youth Manifesto. "My message to young people is to be kind to one another, always smile and help others when they need it. Kindness is contagious. I want to make a world without bullying or racism. We need each other to make a perfect world." © UNICEF/UN0261617/Hearfield
"Education is the key to building peaceful societies, and yet, for millions of children around the world, school itself is not safe," said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. "Every day, students face multiple dangers, including fighting, pressure to join gangs, bullying — both in person and online — violent discipline, sexual harassment and armed violence. In the short term, this impacts their learning and in the long term, it can lead to depression, anxiety and suicide. Violence is an unforgettable lesson no child needs to learn."
UNICEF and partners are working tirelessly in Syria, Yemen, South Sudan, Bangladesh and around the world to save and protect children. With a presence in 190 countries and territories, UNICEF has helped save more children's lives than any other humanitarian organization in the world.
Top photo: Josseline, 17 (left), Darwin, 16, and their friend Henry were targeted by bullies at school in Villanueva, Honduras. Darwin remembers Henry as a popular and caring boy, but his grades went down after the bullying began. Then he committed suicide. "I was hit very hard," said Darwin. "I still can't get over it." © UNICEF/UN0232617/Zehbrauskas