“Bullying cuts to heart of human rights of children”— Commissioner responds to Parliament report

07 July 2017

The Commissioner has responded to a new report from the Equalities and Human Rights Committee at the Scottish Parliament which raises serious concern about prejudice-based bullying in Scotland.

The report, It is not Cool to be Cruel: Prejudice based bullying and harassment of children and young people in schools, reflected powerful evidence from children and young people and organisations that work with them.

In their report, the Committee made several recommendations covering the Scottish Government’s Anti-Bullying Strategy, Inclusive Education, Curriculum, and Recording, Monitoring and Inspections. These included:

  • beginning to teach children about human rights at a much earlier age,
  • ensuring that education can take place in an inclusive environment,
  • listening to children when issues around bullying are raised.

The report is indicative of larger issues in our society. When children talk to our office about bullying, they often get frustrated: they say bullying doesn’t just happen in schools, and it’s not just children who do it. In order to address bullying we need to engage in conversations in places other than school as well— in the home and in our wider community.

Welcoming the report, the Commissioner said:

“Bullying cuts to heart of the human rights of children.
“Children have the right to grow up in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding in order that they can develop to their full potential. Bullying attacks a child’s sense of their human dignity, self-worth and identity.
”Impacting a children’s ability to access rights such as education, play, and culture, bullying can also have a profound effect on a child’s mental and physical health – and even the right to life.
“Particularly concerning was evidence in relation to gender based abuse and harassment in schools and reports from girls that this was not being taken seriously by adults. This demands urgent action.
“Other children reported being targeted because of their identity as well, whether that be their sexual orientation or gender identity, being disabled, the fact that they are care experienced or are a young carer, the fact they are from a gypsy traveller community, or that they are black or minority ethnic. Schools and wider society need to do more to stop this discrimination through a more inclusive approach.
“These are not new issues, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child raised these concerns in its report on Scotland in 2016 and called for action. This report from the Equality and Human Rights Committee is a call to action for all of us – within schools, but also within society – to think about human rights: to think about the way our words and actions impact on others.
“I particularly welcome the call from the Committee that the UNCRC should be incorporated into Scots law. This has long been called for by the United Nations and my office. It would mean that there was domestic enforceability of the Convention and we would be better able to ensure that the Scottish Government and all public bodies kept their promises to children to stop bullying.”
“Where other countries have incorporated the UNCRC we’ve seen a culture change take place: children’s rights move higher up the agenda. I think that is a change that would make a huge difference when tackling bullying as an issue for Scotland’s society.”

Rights affected by bullying

Bullying has a pernicious effect on many children’s rights, including:

The right to health

Bullying can have a long-term impact on both physical and mental health, to the extent that it can also impact a child’s right to life. One of the most worrying findings of the report was that 27% of bullied LGBT young people in Scotland had attempted suicide.

The right to protection from discrimination

Bullying is often explicitly discriminatory, and the report found an increase in racist, sexist and homophobic bullying in our schools. The report states that any perceived difference can make a child at risk of being bullied.

The right to education

Every child has the right to education that can help them realise their talents to the fullest extent possible, but bullying can act as a barrier to this. In some cases, it impacts on all forms of educational attainment, which can have a knock-on effect on a child’s future life chances.


Find out more

Read more about the report on the Scottish Parliament website.

Download the report.