Cyberbullying, Human rights and bystanders

What are the impacts of cyberbullying?

Bullying, including cyberbullying, can have serious impacts on individuals, organisations and communities.[10]

Cyberbullying can be detrimental to a person’s mental and physical health.[11] Victims can experience significant social isolation and feel unsafe.[12] It can lead to emotional and physical harm,[13] loss of self-esteem, feelings of shame and anxiety, concentration and learning difficulties. Incidents of young people committing suicide have also occurred.[14]

In the case of a perpetrator of bullying, it can contribute to ongoing antisocial or criminal behaviour and engaging in abuse in other contexts.[15]

Cyberbullying is likely to create difficult and unsafe environments in organisations, be it at school, work or sporting clubs. Organisations at, or through, which bullying occurs have responsibilities to address and prevent bullying. In addition to the significant harm that cyberbullying can have, not addressing incidents of bullying could expose organisations to risks of claims for compensation.

Cyberbullying and human rights

Everyone has the right to be respected, safe and free from violence, harassment and bullying. A life free from violence and from cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment is a fundamental human right.[16] Bullying and harassment can also lead to violations of a range of other human rights. These rights include:

  • The highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.[17] Bullying can impact negatively on your physical and mental health causing harm in the form of physical injuries, stress-related illnesses, depression and other health issues.
  • Work and fair working conditions.[18] Bullying can lead to higher absenteeism from the workplace, poor or reduced performance and an unsafe working environment.
  • Freedom of expression and to hold opinions without interference.[19] Bullying can impact on your freedom to express feelings or opinions as you no longer feel safe to do so.
  • A child or young person’s right to leisure and play.[20] Bullying often occurs where children and young people play and socialise such as in school playgrounds and on social networking sites. All children have the right to participate in leisure activities in a safe environment. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, in its report on Australia’s compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, raised concerns about bullying and the importance of protecting children and young people from exposure to violence, racism and pornography through mobile phones and other technologies, including the internet.[21]
  • The right to education because it can make you feel unsafe and unwelcome at school and impact on how well you do.[22]
  • The right to be free from violence whether mental, emotional or physical.[23]

While the rights above are not a comprehensive list, they indicate the range of rights that can be violated by bullying.

Just as all people are entitled to enjoy all human rights, they also have responsibilities to respect the rights of others. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights calls on every individual in society to promote respect for human rights and freedoms.[24] This is because bullying is everyone’s problem. Key human rights treaties also note that individuals have duties to one another and to their community, and have a responsibility to strive for the promotion and observance of human rights.[25]

Taking a human rights approach to tackling bullying allows us to identify and address the harm to a victim’s rights and encourage all of us to respect the rights of others.


[10] See for example, Schwartx, J., ‘Bullying, Suicide, Punishment’, New York Times, 2 October, 2010. At (viewed 16 November 2010).
[11] D Cross, T Shaw, I Hearn, M Epstein, H Monks, L Lester, L Thomas Australian Covert Bullying Prevalence Study, Child Health Promotion Research Centre, Edith Cowan University, (2009), p 42; Sameer Hindujaa; ‘Justin W. Patchin, Bullying, Cyberbullying and Suicide’, Archives of Suicide Research, (2007) 14:3, 206 – 221. At (viewed 16 November 2010).
[12] See the National Centre Against Bullying. At (viewed December 2010).
[13] Ibid
[14] See for example, Schwartx, J., ‘Bullying, Suicide, Punishment’, New York Times, 2 October, 2010. At (viewed 16 November 2010).
[15] K Rigby, ‘An overview of approaches to managing bully/victim problem’ in H McGrath and T Noble, Bullying solutions; Evidence-based approaches for Australian Schools (2006) Pearson Education.
[16] See for example, Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR), GA Resolution 217A (III), UN Doc A/810,1948, art 5; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR),1966, art 7;CRC,1989, art 19.Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 2006, art 16; Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, General Recommendation No. 19 – Violence Against Women (1992), paras 4, 17, 14; 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. At (viewed 3 March 2011); UDHR,1948, art 7; ICCPR, 1966, arts 7, 26.
[17]UDHR GA Resolution 217A (III), UN Doc A/810 (1948), art 25; International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), 1966, art 12(1); CRC,1989, art 24.
[18]UDHR GA Resolution 217A (III), UN Doc A/810 (1948), art 23; ICESCR arts 6 and 7.
[19]UDHR GA Resolution 217A (III), UN Doc A/810 (1948), art 19; ICCPR,1966, art 19.
[20]CRC, 1989, art 31.
[21] They have also encouraged Australia to develop programmes and strategies to use mobile technology, media advertisements and the internet to raise awareness among both children and parents on information and material injurious to the well-being of children. Committee on the Rights of the Child: Concluding Observations, Australia, UN Doc CRC/C/15/Add.268 (20 October 2005) paras 33-34.
[22] UDHR GA Resolution 217A (III), UN Doc A/810 (1948), art 26; ICESCR,1966, art 13(1); CRC, 1989, art 29; Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment no. 1- The Aims of Education, (2001) art 29 (1) para 8.
[23]UDHR,1948, art 5; ICCPR,1966, art 7; CRC,1989, art, 19; Committee on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women, Violence Against Women, General Recommendation No. 12 eighth session, (1989) notes that violence directed against a woman because she is a woman or violence that affects women disproportionately is discrimination.
[24]UDHR GA Resolution 217A (III), UN Doc A/810 (1948), preamble.
[25]ICCPR, 1966, preamble; ICESCR, 1966, preamble.