UN report highlights high homicide rates in Americas and urges governments to look at consequences of violence: depression and substance abuse
Nearly half a million people were murdered in 2012, making it the third leading cause of death globally for men aged 15-44 years (after HIV-Aids and road accidents), a report said on Wednesday. It urged governments to do more to enforce laws to protect citizens.
The Global Status Report on Violence Prevention 2014 , published by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the UN Development Programme and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said failure to collect sufficient, reliable data was hindering efforts to prevent violence.
Globally, murder rates declined by 16% between 2000 and 2012 to 475,000 deaths. Of those, 60% were of men aged 15-44. Worldwide, about 200,000 murders happen each year among young people aged 10-29 – more than 500 deaths a day and about 43% of the total.
The highest estimated rates were in the Americas, with 28.5 homicides per 100,000 population, followed by Africa with 10.9.
The report – the first to assess national efforts to address interpersonal violence – also looked at non-fatal consequences, examining child maltreatment, youth violence, intimate partner violence, sexual violence and abuse of older people.
One in four children in the 133 countries surveyed had been physically abused; one in five girls had been sexually abused; and one in three women had been a victim of physical and/or sexual partner violence.
“We have enough science to show the immense non-fatal consequences of violence against women, children, girls and the elderly, in the shape of depression, anxiety disorders, excessive smoking, alcohol and so forth,” said Alexander Butchart, coordinator of violence prevention at WHO. “These are otherwise invisible consequences, which stretch across a lifetime and consume huge amounts of resources on the part of the individual … and on the part of the systems that have to deal with them.”
Despite this, the report found that only one-third of countries were implementing large-scale initiatives to prevent violence, such as bullying prevention programmes, visits by nurses to families at risk, and supporting those who care for older people.
“It’s not quite a glass half-full but … it’s good to see that countries are starting to do something in terms of investing in prevention programmes and policies because for too long violence has simply been left to the criminal justice sector and the police alone,” said Butchart. “They have a huge role to play but alongside other sectors like health, education, social work, people who address alcohol excess and so forth, who can help to prevent and not just chase the perpetrators.”
On average, 80% of the countries surveyed had enacted a set of 12 laws meant to prevent violence, but only 57% had fully enforced them.
“With this [report], we have a useful tool for identifying the gaps in legislation and enforcement in countries, which can help to indicate what further action is needed to ensure reductions in violent crime,” said Yury Fedotov, UNODC’s executive director.
Only half the countries surveyed had services to protect and support those who have experienced violence. Violence also contributes to leading causes of death such as cancer, heart disease and HIV and Aids because people are more likely to adopt risky behaviour such as smoking, alcohol and drug misuse, and unsafe sex.
Butchart said less than half the countries surveyed had mental health services to help victims, with that rate falling to 15% in Africa. “Violence has such profound mental health consequences so there is a big opportunity to help reduce the consequences of violence for these people and prevent [their] reinvolvement in violence either as victims or perpetrators,” he said.
The report tried to quantify levels of abuse of elderly people – a previously neglected area. It found rates of abuse among adults aged over 60 varied widely, ranging from 0.8% in Spain and 2.6% in the UK to 18% in Israel and 32% in Belgium.
Such abuse can lead to physical injuries and long-term psychological consequences but less than one-quarter of countries are developing public information campaigns to prevent elder abuse, the report said.
“Elder abuse … has been so poorly documented,” Butchart said. “The number of older people is growing exponentially … More and more people will end up in situations of dependency,” he said.
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