Committee on Culture and Education

Bullying at school can result in long-term damage to mental health and social skills of children and teenagers. How can the European Union support Member States in the battle
against this phenomenon?

Chairpersons : Eva Ruiz (FR) and Shirley Carr (IE)

Subject introduction

The values of freedom, tolerance, respect for diversity and non-discrimination are cornerstones of European societies. School bullying undermines these values. It is also a key factor in early school leaving, and has serious and long-term effects for both victims and perpetrators. It affects mental and physical health as well as the academic performance of children and young people.

Bullying is defined as the act of intentionally causing harm to others through verbal harassment, physical assault or more subtle methods.1 Reasons for being bullied are varied, with victims reporting physical appearance, race or ethnic background, belonging to the LGBT community or socioeconomic factors as leading causes. Young LGBT people between the ages of 14 to 16 are more than twice as likely as their heterosexual classmates to be physically bullied and socially excluded2.

Studies from Member States show that 45% of children experience bullying by the age of 18.According to a 2016 study by the charity Beatbullying, more than half of all children (55%) who had been subjected to forms of bullying reported that they had subsequently become depressed; whereas 35% of them stated that they had committed acts of self-harm, while 38% said they had considered suicide.

Cyberbullying is a relatively new but fast-growing phenomenon. The increased availability of new technologies has resulted in a rise in cyberbullying cases. Cyberbullying increased among children aged 11-16 from 7% in 2010 to 12% in 2014.4 The European Commission defines cyberbullying as repeated verbal or psychological harassment carried out by an individual or a group against others through online services and mobile phones.5 Cyberbullying is generally understood as bullying taking place on the internet. Cyberbullying is a particularly dangerous phenomenon as it can take place everywhere and at any time giving victims limited possibilities to escape. It is important to note that there is no single definition of cyberbullying agreed upon internationally or at European level.
The growing availability of new technologies has resulted in an increase in cyberbullying cases in recent years. More than one million people worldwide were victims of cybercrime every day; this includes also victims of cyberbullying.6 According to the 2014 EU Net Children Go Mobile Report, 12% of the 3,500 children aged 9-16 years old were cyberbullied.7

Food for thought
When considering the issue of bullying, it is important to consider the role of various stakeholders including schools, parents, NGOs, national governments, and EU institutions. The European Parliament has identified the responsibility of schools and families in fostering a “healthy mental and cultural attitude that leads to a reduction of bullying in school.”8 Additionally, schools are charged with managing the successful social integration of pupils, including promoting a respectful and inclusive environment.

NGOs play an important role in raising awareness around bullying and promoting strategies for identifying and reporting cases of bullying. Examples of such organisations include “Ditch the label”, an international campaign aimed at preventing bullying within the 12-25 age bracket. An example of a government-led initiative is the Non au harcèlement campaign9 in France. This campaign offers specific advice and protocols to children and young people facing bullying, as well as their parents and teachers.

There are no standards specifically targeting bullying at international level. However, Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) on the protection from all forms of violence is applicable to bullying, including online harassment. At regional level, the Council of Europe10 has adopted a range of legally binding measures relevant to bullying online. The EU has only a ‘supplementary’ role in this field consisting of supporting, coordinating or supplementing the initiatives adopted by Member States at national level. Although the EU has only a limited role, EU action on bullying cannot be completely excluded. Research on bullying among young people recommends a preventive approach rather than a punitive one. The most effective strategies associated with a decrease in bullying others were: parent training/meetings, teacher training, improved playground supervision, disciplinary methods, cooperative group work between professionals, school assemblies, information for parents, classroom rules and classroom management, as well as a whole-school anti-bullying policy.11

At national level, none of the 28 EU Member States have criminal legal provisions targeting cyberbullying specifically. In the absence of a specific criminal offence for cyberbullying, all Member States address cyberbullying within the legal framework of other offences in a broad range of areas such as: violence, anti-discrimination and computer- related crimes. The severity of sanctions for both bullying and the consequences of cyberbullying range in severity dependant on factors such as age of the parties involved, school policy, national legislation. It is important to note that the EU does not have the competence to impose legislation in the area of education and culture, but can nonetheless propose solutions to Member States to implement voluntarily.

1. What is Bullying?, Stop Bullying,
2. Facts about bullying, Anti-Bullying Training,
3. Facts and statistics on bullying and cyberbullying, Anti-Bullying Training,
4. Cyberbullying among young people, European Parliament, 2016,
5. ‘Safer Internet Day 2009: Commission starts campaign against cyber-bullying’, European Commission, February 10, 2009,
6. 2012 Norton Cybercrime Report, Norton by Symantec, 2012,
The report covered 24 countries including EU Member States.
7. G. Mascheroni, A. Cuman, Net Children Go Mobile. Final Report, Educatt Milano, Italy, 2014. The EU Net Children Go Mobile project was co-funded by the Safer Internet Programme to investigate through quantitative and qualitative methods how the changing conditions of internet access and use bring greater, fewer or newer risks to children’s online safety. Participating countries included Denmark, Italy, Romania, the UK, Belgium, Ireland and Portugal.
8. Motion for a resolution on combating bullying, European Parliament, May 31, 2017,
9. Non au harcèlement,
10. The Council of Europe (CoE) is a non-EU affiliated organisation, including all EU Member States and other European nations, which promotes democracy and the protection of human rights. The seat of the CoE is in Strasbourg.