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WHO: Urgent Action Needed to Prevent Global Violence

Indian women shout slogans during an event to support the "One Billion Rising" global campaign in Hyderabad, India, Feb. 14, 2013.

A new study finds rampant violence throughout the world takes a particularly heavy toll on women and children. The World Health Organization, which has just published its first status report on the prevention of violence, is calling for greater efforts globally to prevent violence.

The new study finds homicide rates decreased by 16 percent globally between 2000 and 2012. By any measure, this should be good news, but the 274-page report reveals that 475,000 people were murdered in 2012, making homicide the third leading cause of death for males aged 15 to 44 years.

A survey of 133 countries shows one in four children has been physically abused, one in five girls has been sexually abused, one in three women has been a victim of physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner, and one in 17 older people reports having been abused in the past month.

WHO Department for Management of non-communicable diseases disability, violence and injury prevention Director Etienne Krug said more than one billion people are affected by violence in their lifetime. He said the results are shattering.

“Mental health consequences are very important. People affected by violence often end up with depression, alcohol and drug dependence, anxiety, etcetera -- sexual and reproductive health problems after rape, unwanted pregnancy, the spread of HIV, sexually transmitted diseases, etcetera," he said. "And less known, but very important, the fact that those affected by violence, very often change their behavior. They are more often to adopt a risky life style which includes smoking, alcohol misuse, drug abuse, less physical activity.”

Krug said violence can be reduced and prevented in several ways.

“Parenting programs to help parents be better parents and thereby reduce child maltreatment, working with care-givers of older people to prevent elder abuse, working with young adolescents ... educating them in the sense that they understand that the response to stress is not necessarily violence, but that there are other ways of dealing with them,” he said.

The report finds prevention efforts in western European countries are paying off with homicide rates decreasing in some of the highest income countries. But it says homicide rates are very high in the Americas.

WHO coordinator of Violence Prevention Alexander Butchart said homicide rates also are relatively high in Africa, as is violence against women and elder abuse. He told VOA, though, some African countries are implementing successful prevention programs.

“In particular, in South Africa, a program called IMAGE, the acronym Intervention with Micro-finance and Gender Equity, aimed at reducing intimate partner violence as a way of preventing HIV/AIDS transmission. And they managed to reduce it by half through a combination of micro-finance and supporting women and men in non-violent conflict resolution within the house.”

The report says about 80 percent of the 133 countries surveyed have enacted laws against rape, domestic violence, carrying weapons in schools, and against abuse in institutions for older people. But just more than half of the countries report these laws are being fully enforced.

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