Accessibility links

UNICEF:  Thousands of Children Worldwide Die From Physical Abuse Each Year - 2003-09-18

The United Nations Children's Fund is raising concern about violence against children. It has issued a report assessing the level of violence against children in 23 of the world's richest countries.

UNICEF reports almost 3,500 children under age 15 die from physical abuse and neglect every year in the industrialized world. It says countries that report exceptionally low incidence of child deaths from maltreatment include Spain, Greece, Italy, Ireland and Norway. By contrast, the United States, Mexico and Portugal have rates that are between 10 and 15 times higher than the average.

However, the main author of the report, Peter Newell, says these results may not present an accurate picture. He says a country such as the United States, which reports 27 child deaths from abuse every week, may be doing a better job of investigating these deaths than a country such as Britain, which reports only two child deaths a week from abuse and neglect.

He says most of the children are killed by family members, and babies under one year of age are most at risk. He says the factors that lead to child abuse are many and complicated.

"The report does highlight drug and alcohol abuse, poverty and stress, and so on," said Mr. Newell. "And, I think, what this really shows is that children are suffering from adult problems. As the forward [of the report] states, the challenge of ending child abuse is the challenge of breaking the link between adults' problems and children's pain."

The UNICEF study says statistics of child maltreatment are sketchy and tend to be grossly underestimated. An expert on child rights, Marilia Sordenberg, says both the family and the state are reluctant to acknowledge that child abuse occurs.

"That is why it is so difficult," said Marilia Sordenberg. "And, maybe that is why this issue was a little bit hidden until now, and a little bit even taboo in many, many countries, probably all countries.

"There is no country, which really likes to discuss these things, because it is shocking in a way," she continued. "But, of course, because it is shocking, we have to address it very quickly."

UNICEF says countries must treat the question of violence against children more seriously, and not dismiss it as just a domestic matter. It calls on governments to investigate child deaths more rigorously and to punish those responsible, even if the perpetrators are the child's parents.