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Bullying, schools under attack, physical punishment: Places of learning could be safer, report says

Globally, about 150 million students ages 13 to 15 report facing peer violence at school

CNN  — 

How safe are schools around the world? That’s a question that a new report from the United Nations Children’s Fund helps answer, and it suggests that schools could and should be much safer.

The report, released Wednesday, finds that about half of 13- to 15-year-old students worldwide – or 150 million of them – have said they experience violence, such as physical fights or forms of bullying, from their peers in and around school.

In addition, the report notes that students experience other forms of violence at school, such as attacks on classrooms or physical punishment by teachers.

Globally, about 720 million school-age children live in countries where they are not fully protected by law against forms of physical punishment at school, according to the report.

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“Schools are not as safe as they should be, because of bullying, because of corporal punishment by teachers, because of attacks on schools,” said Claudia Cappa, a senior adviser on statistics at UNICEF and a contributor to the new report.

“Schools should be a safe place for children to go and learn, but what we know from the report is that about half of teen students experience peer violence while in school on a regular basis,” she said.

The report is based on data from the Health Behavior in School-aged Children cross-national study and the Global School-based Student Health Surveys. The data include 122 countries, representing 51% of the global population of children between 13 and 15.

Globally, the estimated cost of all violence against children is $7 trillion, according to the report. It also references some previously published research on school violence.

Yet the data are not all grim, and there seems to be growing awareness of the harmful health impacts that school violence can have on children and adolescents, Cappa said.

“There are more children speaking up against violence in schools and more teachers are getting trained,” she said. “We have reasons to be optimistic that violence will be recognized as a problem in schools and addressed very soon.”

According to the data, most countries appear to show similar rates of self-reported peer violence in schools, Cappa said.

“What is interesting is that most of the countries are exactly around this average of 50%, so it’s statistically a very concentrated distribution,” she said. “It’s 48% in the United States of children who experience peer violence, including bullying, in or around school.”

As for bullying alone, 27.8% of US students ages 12 through 18 reported being bullied at school between 2010 and 2011, according to a 2011 National Center for Education Statistics report.

Globally, slightly more than one in three students between 13 and 15 have said they experience bullying, according to the report, and about one in three has been involved in physical fights.

On the other hand, 17 million young adolescents in 39 industrialized countries have admitted bullying others at school, according to the report.

“The ability to report depends on awareness, willingness and the ability to overcome fears,” Cappa said. “Then there are cultural interpretations and values that might affect the willingness and ability to report the experience of violence. So there might be a certain level of underestimation.”

Sexual violence also can occur in schools and between peers, the report notes. For instance, in Kenya, about one in five women and men who reported experiencing sexual violence before age 18 said that the first incident was at school, according to the report.

In a survey conducted in Mexico in 2013, 7% of boys and 5% of girls in upper-secondary school said that they had experienced sexual insults from their classmates in the previous year, according to the report.