Children and young people

Why are violence, harassment and bullying human rights issues?

Everyone has the right to be respected and safe,[4] regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability or age.[5] Violence, harassment and bullying are violations of this human right.[6]

There are specific obligations that apply to children and young people. The Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children have the right to be protected from all forms of physical and mental violence, including torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.[7]

Governments must ensure that every person under the age of 18 is protected from all forms of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.[8] They must pay particular attention to the specific types of abuse, neglect, violence and exploitation that affect children and young people.

Governments also need to implement special measures to protect children and young people who are more vulnerable to violence, harassment and bullying. For example, governments must act to ensure the physical, sexual and mental integrity of young people with disabilities, who are particularly vulnerable to abuse and neglect.[9]

There is often a strong public perception that young people are perpetrators of violence. In reality they are often the most vulnerable to being victims of violence, harassment and bullying. For example, young men aged 15 and over are at greater risk than any other age groups of experiencing violence.[10]

(a) Experience of violence, harassment and bullying can lead to other human rights breaches (i.e. impacts)

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has noted that violence, harassment and bullying are unacceptable in any context and violate a range of human rights.

Securing and promoting children’s fundamental rights to respect for their human dignity and physical and psychological integrity, through the prevention of all forms of violence, is essential for promoting the full set of child rights in the Convention.[11]

The right to life, survival and development

The government has an obligation to create and promote an environment conducive to the maximum development of the child.[12]

Violence, harassment and bullying can have a profound effect on physical and emotional wellbeing. Exposure to violence can cause immediate physical and mental damage and is associated with lifelong social, emotional, cognitive and physical problems. For example, children and young people who experience violence are more likely to have heart, lung, and liver disease, experience intimate partner violence and attempt suicide later in life.[13]

The right to health

All children and young people have the right to the highest attainable standard of health.[14]

Violence, harassment and bullying have a negative impact on a child and young person’s right to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health. Violence can cause significant physical, psychological and emotional harm and contributes to social problems for individuals, families and communities. Victims of child abuse, neglect, domestic and sexual violence have more health problems, higher health care costs and more frequent hospital emergency visits throughout their lives than those without a history of abuse.[15]

The right to education

All children have the right to education.[16]

All children and young people have the right to accessible high-quality education free from violence, harassment and bullying.[17] This includes any form of discrimination.[18] Schools should provide a supportive learning environment where all students feel safe and can reach their potential. A school which allows bullying or other violent and exclusionary practices is not meeting the requirements of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.[19]

Violence, harassment and bullying have a negative impact on children and young people’s enjoyment of the right to education. Victims of violence, harassment and bullying tend to miss school more often and achieve lower academic results than other students.[20]

The right to be heard

All children have the right to form and express an opinion and to have their opinions respected in a way that is appropriate to their age.[21]

Violence, harassment and bullying diminish or remove children’s ability to have their opinions taken seriously. Taking children and young people’s views seriously is of central importance in the elimination of discrimination, prevention of bullying and harassment and the promotion of positive non violent relationships and approaches to discipline.[22]

The right of a child or young person’s to leisure and play

All children have the right to participate in leisure activities in a safe environment.[23]

Violence, harassment and bullying often occur where children and young people play and socialise such as in school playgrounds and on social networking sites.

The right to work and fair working conditions[24]

All young people have a right to be protected from work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with their education, or to be harmful to the child's health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.[25]

Violence, harassment and bullying are serious workplace hazards and can have a significant impact on a young person’s wellbeing. This includes not just in a young person’s mental and physical health at work but also in other areas of their life.

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[4]Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), 1948, art 5; International Covenant on Economic Civil and Political Rights (ICESCR), art 7; Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC),1989 art 19.
[5]UDHR, 1948, art 2; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), 1966, art 2; ICESCR, 1966, art 2.
[6] Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), 1989, art 19.
[7]CRC,1989, art 37; para 18; Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No.8 - The right of the child to protection from corporal punishment and other cruel or degrading forms of punishment, UN Doc CRC/C/GC/8 (2006). arts. 19; 28, para. 2; and 37, inter alia. At http://tb.ohchr.org/default.aspx?Symbol=CRC/C/GC/8 (viewed 8 September 2010).
[8] Under CRC art 19, government must take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child”.
[9] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 4 Adolescent health and development in the context of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, UN Doc CRC/GC/2003/4 (2003), para 34.
[10] ABS, Australian Social Trends, Canberra Catalogue: 4102.0; (2007); UN Secretary General’s Study on Violence Against Children (2006) An End to Violence Against Children Chapter 1, para 71, At http://www.unicef.org/violencestudy/reports.html (viewed 26 August 2010).
[11] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment no. 13- Article 19: The right of the child to freedom form all forms of violence, UN Doc CRC/C/GC/13 (2011) para 12.
[12]CRC,1989,Guiding Principles
[13] UNGA, UN Secretary General’s Study on violence against children, UN Doc A/61/299 (2006) p 12. At <http://www.unicef.org/violencestudy/reports.html (viewed 26 August 2010).
[14]CRC, 1989,art 24.
[15] World Health Organisation, World Report on Violence and Health (2002) pg 8. At http://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/violence/world_report/en/ (viewed 22 February 2011).
[16]CRC,1989, arts 28 - 30.
[17] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment no. 1- The Aims of Education, (2001) art 29 (1) para 19.
[18] Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs, Melbourne Declaration: The Educational Goals for Young Australians (2008). At http://www.mceecdya.edu.au/mceecdya/melbourne_declaration,25979.html (viewed 22 February 2011).
[19] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment no. 1 The Aims of Education (2001) Art 29 (1), para 19
[20] AIHW, A Picture of Australia’s Young People, (2009) p107, 109; UNGA, Report of the Independent expert of the United Nations study on violence against children (2006).
[21]CRC,1989, art 12.
[22] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment no.12 - The right to be heard, UN Doc CRC/C/GC/12, 20 July 2009, para 120. At http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/crc/docs/AdvanceVersions/CRC-C-GC-1...
(viewed 10 September 2010).
[23] CRC, 1989,art 31.
[24] UDHR, 1948, art 23; ICCPR Articles 6 and 7
[25]Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC),1989. art 32.