Children face violence and bullying at school all over the world, with one in every three students subject to attacks at least once a month and one in 10, a victim of cyberbullying, the UN said on Thursday.
The warning from UNESCO, the UN organization for education, science and culture, based on 2019 data, coincides with the first International Day against Violence and Bullying at School – Including Cyberbullying, on 5 November.
“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,” said UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay, in a statement.
‘Neglected, minimised or ignored’
Tackling bullying is also key to the protection of students, Ms. Azoulay continued, describing it as a “blight” that was “neglected, minimized or ignored”, even though it inflicted “physical and emotional suffering on millions of children around the world”.
Given the scale of school violence and bullying highlighted in a 2019 report by UNESCO covering 144 countries, Ms. Azoulay insisted on the need to raise global awareness and put a stop to both problems.
“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”, she maintained.
The consequences of bullying can have devastating consequences on academic achievement, school dropout, and physical and mental health, the UN education agency said in a statement.
It defined bullying as aggressive behaviour that involves unwanted, negative actions repeated over time and an imbalance of power or strength between the perpetrators and the victims.
“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,” UNESCO said. “They have worse educational outcomes than their peers and are also more likely to leave formal education after finishing secondary school.”
Cyberbullying on the rise
Highlighting that cyberbullying is on the rise, the UN organization attributed this to the COVID-19 pandemic, as more students than ever were “living, learning and socializing online”. This had led to an “unprecedented increase in screen time and the merging of online and offline worlds”, heightening youngsters’ vulnerability to bullying and cyberbullying.
While bullying is most often carried out by children’s peers, in some cases teachers and other school staff are believed to be responsible. Corporal punishment is still permitted in schools in 67 countries, UNESCO noted.
Physical bullying is the most frequent type of bullying in many regions – with the exception of North America and Europe, where psychological bullying is most common.
Sexual bullying – including hostile sexual jokes, comments or gestures – is the second most common form of harassment at school in many regions.
Although school violence and bullying affect male and female students, physical bullying is more common among boys.
A person’s physical appearance is the most common cause of bullying, students reported, followed by their race, nationality or skin colour.
Psychological abuse is more common among girls, UNESCO continued, after identifying “isolating, rejecting, ignoring, insults, spreading rumours, making up lies, name-calling, ridicule, humiliation and threats” as typical treatment.
Not a rite of passage
Dismissing the widely held belief that bullying is a rite of passage for youngsters and that little can be done to eradicate it, UNESCO insisted that dozens of countries had made great progress in addressing the problem.
A political desire for change was key, it noted, along with promoting a caring school environment, training for teachers and mechanisms to report bullying and support for affected students.
Over 1.9 billion people in Asia-Pacific unable to afford a healthy diet
The economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic and surging food prices are keeping almost two billion people in Asia and the Pacific from healthy diets, United Nations agencies said on Wednesday.
According to the 2020 Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition, the region’s poor have been worst affected, forced to choose cheaper and less nutritious foods. The report is jointly produced by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
“The outbreak of COVID-19 and a lack of decent work opportunities in many parts of the region, alongside significant uncertainty of food systems and markets, has led to a worsening of inequality, as poorer families with dwindling incomes further alter their diets to choose cheaper, less nutritious foods,” the agencies said.
“Due to higher prices for fruits, vegetables and dairy products, it has become nearly impossible for poor people in Asia and the Pacific to achieve healthy diets, the affordability of which is critical to ensure food security and nutrition for all – and for mothers and children in particular.”
As a result, progress is also slowing on improving nutrition, a key target for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As of 2019, over 350 million people in the region are estimated to have been undernourished, with an about 74.5 million children under five stunted (too short for their age) and 31.5 million suffering from wasting (too thin for height).
‘Impact most severe in first 1,000 days’
The UN agencies went on to note that while nutrition is vitally important throughout a person’s life, the impact of a poor diet is most severe in the first 1,000 days, from pregnancy to when a child reaches the age of two.
“Young children, especially when they start eating their ‘first foods’ at six months, have high nutritional requirements to grow well and every bite counts,” they said.
The agencies called for an integrated systems approach – bringing together food, water and sanitation, health, social protection and education systems – to address underlying factors and achieve healthy diets for all mothers and children.
‘Changing face of malnutrition’
They also highlighted the “changing face” of malnutrition, with highly processed and inexpensive foods, readily available throughout Asia and the Pacific. Often packed with sugar and unhealthy fats, such food items lack the vitamins and minerals required for growth and development and also increase the risk of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
The report urged governments to invest more in nutrition and food safety to promote healthy diets, as well as regulate sales and marketing of food for consumers, especially children. It also highlighted the need for action within the private sector, given the sector’s important role in the food system and its value chains for achieving healthy diets.
Israel: ‘Halt and reverse’ new settlement construction
Israel’s decision to advance plans for some 800 new settlement units, most of which are located deep inside the occupied West Bank, has sparked the concern of UN Secretary-General António Guterres.
In a statement issued on Monday by his spokesperson, Stephane Dujarric, the UN chief urged the Israeli Government to “halt and reverse such decisions”, calling them “a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution, and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace”.
‘No legal validity’
Mr. Guterres reiterated that Israel’s establishing of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, “has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law”.
“Settlement expansion increases the risk of confrontation, further undermines the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, and further erodes the possibility of ending the occupation and establishing a contiguous and viable sovereign Palestinian State, based on the pre-1967 lines”, he said.
Israel has given the green light to 780 new homes in West Bank settlements on Sunday in a move widely seen as being influenced by the imminent transfer of power in the United States.
Breaking with decades of US diplomacy, outgoing President Donald Trump, in 2019 unilaterally declared that the settlements no longer breached international law.
Against that backdrop, Israel has been increasing construction and either approved or made plans for more than 12,000 homes in 2020, according to news reports.
Spectre of unrest, violent repression looming over Haiti
Increasing political tensions in Haiti coupled with insecurity and structural inequalities could result in protests followed by violent crackdowns by authorities, the United Nations human rights office (OHCHR) warned on Tuesday.
According to the office, criminal activities, such as kidnappings, gang fights and widespread insecurity have increased, with “almost total” impunity.
Added to the volatile mix is resurging political tensions over the timing and scope of elections and a constitutional referendum proposed by the Government, OHCHR spokesperson Marta Hurtado told journalists at a regular briefing in Geneva.
“Calls for mass protests have been growing. This in turn raises concerns of renewed human rights violations by security forces during the policing of protests as seen during the months-long protests in 2018 and 2019, as well as during demonstrations in October and November of last year.”
According to an OHCHR report on the unrest, protests started relatively peacefully in July 2018 but became increasingly violent over time, with many violations and abuses of the rights to life, security of the person and effective remedy.
‘Pattern of violations’
The report also documented violations to the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression. In 2019 demonstrations, barricades were set up that blocked people’s access to hospitals and passage of ambulances. Health facilities were also attacked, severely impacting the daily lives of the Haitian people, particularly those in a vulnerable situation.
In addition, protesters and criminal elements imposed “passage fees”, further impeding the movement of people and goods and exacerbating economic hardship.
“The report shows a pattern of human rights violations and abuses followed by near lack of accountability,” Ms. Hurtado said.
The OHCHR spokesperson called on Haitian authorities to take “immediate action” to avoid repetition of such violations and abuses by ensuring that law enforcement officers abide by international norms and standards regarding the use of force when dealing with protests; as well as ensuring that gangs do not interfere with people’s right to demonstrate peacefully.
She also urged the Government to guarantee accountability for past violations and abuses, ensuring justice, truth, and reparations. Alongside, Haiti should take steps to address people’s grievances and the root causes that fuelled the protests, she added.
“OHCHR stands ready to continue supporting State authorities in their fulfilment of human rights international obligations [and] expresses its willingness to continue working towards the establishment of a country office,” Ms. Hurtado said, welcoming commitments made by the Haitian National Police to reform practices documented in the report.
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