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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 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.

Research Projects

Research Project Research Project


The learning crisis is striking. 53 percent of children in low- and middle-income countries cannot read and understand a simple text by age 10. In poor countries, the “learning poverty” rate is as high as 80 percent. The UNICEF Office of Research (OoR) – Innocenti developed in 2019 a new vision for its education programme for addressing learning poverty, aligned with the 2019-2030 UNICEF Education Strategy ‘Every child learns’. The vision puts increased emphasis on research embedded within programmes and on the use of evidence at country level, through co-creation of the research from the onset with Governments, implementing partners, communities and other stakeholders.  OoR-education programme focuses on research of: i) education systems and policies and ii) local service delivery (in and outside the school); and iii) innovations using behavioral/scaling science & implementation research to build evidence to bridge the “know-do” gap between systems and local level implementation.Time to Teach Teachers attending lessons and spending quality time on task is a critical prerequisite to learning. However, in sub-Saharan Africa, teacher absenteeism ranges from 15 to 45 per cent. The Time to Teach study seeks to identify factors affecting various forms of teacher attendance and to use this evidence to inform the design and implementation of teacher policies in twenty African countries (the Comoros; Kenya; Mozambique; Rwanda, Puntland, State of Somalia; South Sudan; the United Republic of Tanzania; Uganda; Morocco; the Gambia, Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Niger, Mauritania, Togo, Guinea Bissau, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire; Gabon). The study draws from national, system-wide, qualitative data collections and school observations, and a quantitative survey of teachers.Sport for DevelopmentSport for Development (S4D) programmes use sports to achieve development objectives such as education, health, empowerment and like skills. Collaborating with partners, including the Barça Foundation, this research aims to build the evidence base on the  practice and policy of S4D. Building on the findings of the Getting into the Game report, this mixed-methods study is now conducting case studies of programmes from different countries. By listening to the voices of various stakeholders from different countries it aims to develop guidelines on best practices, advocacy and communication, and monitoring and evaluation for organisations implementing S4D progamming for children.Akelius - Digital language learning for refugees, migrants and linguistic minorities This research programme investigates the co-creation, implementation, effectiveness of the Akelius digital language course.  The digital language course is co-created with teachers and students and used in a blended learning approach as a tool for teachers / facilitators, and as a self-learning tool. Fit for purpose monitoring and implementation research is built into to programme to facilitate improvements in the programme as it scales.  The programme is currently implemented for refugees and migrants in Greece, as part of the non-formal education programmes for Syrian Refugees in Lebanon, and as a tool to improve language skills of marginalized children in Mauritania.Data Must Speak (research component)In spite of the learning crisis and even in the most difficult contexts, there are some “positive deviant” schools, that outperform (in terms of learning, gender and equity) other schools in similar contexts and with equivalent resources. Data Must Speak uses mixed-method research on school performance, including behavioral and scaling science and implementation research to identify “positive deviant” practices and behaviors at classroom, school, community and district levels and incentivize their application at scale in all schools, in partnership with Ministries of Education in 8 countries (Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Lao PDR, Madagascar, Niger, Togo, Zambia)Let Us Learn – building evidence into education programmes for the most marginalized.Let Us Learn (LUL) is an initiative that supports vulnerable children - especially girls - learning though a variety of education programmes in 5 countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Liberia, Madagascar and Nepal. UNICEF Office of Research- Innocenti and the Education Section in UNICEF HQ are supporting LUL programmes by helping implementing partners to improve their M&E systems and building evidence through mixed methods research to understand programme effectiveness in their contribution to improved education outcomes, including learning.The education team also provides research outside of these multi-year research programmes supporting UNICEF HQ, Regional offices and Country Offices in research on multiple topics including: Private Education in South Asia, Migration and Violence in Latin America and the Caribbean and understanding equity in education spending using Benefit Incidence Analysis together with UNICEF’s Education and Social Policy sections in HQ. COVID 19 & ChildrenVisit our COVID-19 & Children website for Research Agenda, Research Publications, Blogs, Think Pieces, Online Events, Good Reads and moreShort-term projectsIdentifying good practices for equitable remote learning during COVID-19 school closuresAnalysis of promising remote learning practices during school closures and effects on the most vulnerable children. Builds on data collected from country offices and other sources.Parental engagement in children’s learning: Insights for remote learning response during COVID-19Analysis of MICS 6 data on the potential of child-oriented books at home and the parental role for learning, especially where low access to technology.Long-term projectLearning from COVID-19 on providing continued education for all in times of school closuresInvestigating the impacts of COVID-19 school closures on education and other outcomes and what works to provide continued learning during crises. The research will draw on available data and ongoing Innocenti research  


Publication Publication


The rate of bullying among children is a key indicator of children’s well-being and an important marker for comparing global social development: both victims and perpetrators of bullying in childhood suffer across various dimensions, including personal social development, education, and health, with negative effects persisting into adulthood. For policymakers and professionals working with children, high rates of bullying amongst children should raise warning flags regarding child rights’ failings. Moreover, bullying amongst school-aged children highlights existing inefficiencies in the social system, and the potential for incurring future social costs in the communities and schools in which children live their lives. Inevitably, these concerns have contributed to bullying becoming a globally recognized challenge – every region in the world collects information on children’s experiences of bullying. Yet, despite the identification and monitoring of bullying having global appeal, so far, a validated global measure has not been produced. To fill this gap in knowledge, this paper develops a global indicator on bullying amongst children using existing school-based surveys from around the world. The findings of this paper show that bullying is a complex phenomenon that takes multiple forms, and is experienced to widely varying degrees across the world.