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How safe is your child’s school?

How safe is your child’s school?

How safe is your child’s school?

About half of the world’s teens experience peer violence in and around school, the UN reveals.

How safe are schools around the world? A new report from the UN Children’s Fund suggests they could and should be much safer.

Based on data from 122 countries, the report finds about half of 13- to 15-year-old students worldwide – 150 million – experience peer violence, such as physical fights or forms of bullying, from their peers in and around school.

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 physical punishment at school, according to Claudia Cappa, a senior adviser on statistics at UNICEF and a contributor to the report.

Not all the data is 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 recognised as a problem in schools and addressed very soon.

“Most of the countries are exactly around this average of 50%, so it’s statistically a very concentrated distribution,” she said.

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

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

The report notes about 158 million children and adolescents between 6-17 live in conflict-affected areas.

Last year the UN verified 396 schools attacked in the Democratic Republic of Congo, 26 in South Sudan, 67 in Syria and 20 in Yemen.

Some evidence suggests younger students are more at risk of physical punishment from teachers than adolescent students.

For instance, in two Indian states 78% of 8-year-old students said they had been physically punished by teachers at least once in the previous week, compared with 34% of 15-year-olds.

“Witnessing corporal punishment by teachers sends a message to children that violence is acceptable in schools, which it is not,” Cappa said.

The report calls on governments to develop and enforce laws that prohibit corporal punishment, establish effective responses to violent acts, and resource school staff to help them address violence.

Other measures include ensuring all bathrooms are separate and well-lit, using positive and child-centred approaches to discipline, and tailoring curricula to promote peace-building in schools and communities.

Ron Avi Astor, a professor of school behavioral health at the University of Southern California, called the report “important” and “brave.”

He added it could have focused more closely on how political issues and other factors could drive peer violence in schools.

For instance, “there are still countries around the world that don’t educate girls or mis-educate girls or actually promote ideas that are harmful, not just on a political level or social level but on an interpersonal level. It would be nice down the line if there were reports that actually went into detail on that.”

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