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Bullying: a global challenge requires a global measure

A recently developed global indicator on bullying looks to close gaps in knowledge
12 Jul 2018

(12 July 2018) Bullying among children is a global challenge, with numerous detrimental side effects that have broader societal implications. Both victims and perpetrators of bullying suffer across various dimensions, including personal social development, education, and health, with negative effects persisting into adulthood. Bullying is also a serious concern for policymakers and child practitioners. High rates of bullying amongst children should raise warning flags regarding child rights’ failings. Moreover, due to its damaging effects on learning and behaviour, bullying in schools could reduce the effectiveness of public investment in children’s education and may incur costs through riskier behaviour in the future.

These concerns have contributed to bullying becoming a globally recognised challenge. Yet, despite every region in the world monitoring children’s experiences of bullying, a validated global measure has not been produced. To fill this gap, UNICEF Innocenti’s Education Officer, Dominic Richardson, and Oxford University’s Chii Fen Hiu, have developed a global indicator on bullying by combining data from six international surveys on bullying prevalence amongst 11- to 15-year-olds in 145 countries.

Patricia, 14, stands in a hallway at Professor Daniel Cordón Salguero Elementary School in El Salvador.


The recently released working paper, Developing a Global Indicator on Bullying of School-Aged Children, documents the process of building and validating this global indicator of bullying. Secondly, the paper provides basic analyses on bullying rates and its links to macro-level determinants, including wealth, educational outcomes, and youth suicide rates. Finally, in the absence of a globally representative survey of children, the paper proposes a method of global indicator development that may be used to operationalise the Sustainable Development Goals.

Important findings of the paper include:

  • Experiencing some form of bullying at least once in a couple of months is most common amongst school children in poorer countries.
  • By region, South Asia and West and Central Africa experience most bullying. Countries in Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States experience the lowest rates of bullying.
  • Neither girls nor boys are consistently more affected by bullying, but often boys and younger children experience more bullying.
  • Bullying risk is not clearly linked with income inequality or educational expenditure, but high risk countries report lower per capita GDP and lower secondary school enrolment.
  • Despite a loss in detail in scale, and much regional data being incomparable, it is possible to harmonise national-level data, to define and validate a measure of bullying risk for global comparison.

Global National Map of Bullying by Relative Risk

The vast majority of the globe has usable data, and these have been shaded according to the risk of bullying from light grey (low) to black (high). Gaps in the data (white areas) are most notable in central and West Africa, South Asia, parts of Central and Eastern Europe and the CIS, and islands in the Pacific.

At a glance, the global map shows higher risk in the western hemisphere, and lowest risk in the eastern hemisphere. However, this picture serves best to highlight the variation in experiences within regions. Variation is also likely to exist within countries, and between socio-economic and socio-demographic groups, and which cannot be uncovered using this analysis. The findings of the paper show that bullying is a complex phenomenon that takes multiple forms, and is experienced to widely varying degrees across the world.

Importantly, the paper acknowledges those children who may be missing from the surveys on which the indicator is based. School-based surveys are limited insofar as they are selective in terms of the children they include and the questions they ask, thus influencing results. In particular, cyber-bullying is not included in the indicator. This increasing concern is explored in Innocenti’s work on Child Rights in the Digital Age.

Full details by country, including year of study, average age group, source of data, and raw estimates (including gender breakdowns) can be found in the annex of the paper.