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Study Shows U. S. Ranks Poorly on Child Maltreatment
Study Shows U. S. Ranks Poorly on Child Maltreatment
Thu., Sep. 18, 2003
WASHINGTON, D. C., Sep 18 (OneWorld) -- Young children raised in the
United States, Mexico, and Portugal have the greatest
chances of dying from neglect or other forms of mistreatment among the
27 industrialized nations that make up the Organisation for
Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), according to a new report
released Thursday by a research group associated
with the UN Children's Fund.
The 40-page report estimates that almost 3,500 children under the age
of 15 die from maltreatment, defined as physical abuse or
neglect, every year in the industrialized world.
UNICEF's Innocenti Research Center, based in Italy, produces periodic
"Report Cards" on the status of children in developed
countries. Report Card 5, "Child Mistreatment Deaths in Rich Nations,"
brings a global perspective to issues normally seen only
through national statistics.
The report found that the younger the child, the more likely they were
to die. Children under one year of age, according to the report,
are at three times greater risk than those aged one to four who, in
turn, are twice as likely to die from maltreatment as those between
the ages of five and 15.
Children in the southern European countries of Spain, Greece, and
Italy are the least likely to suffer maltreatment according to the
study, which found that an average of only two children per million in
those countries had died from abuse or neglect annually over
the last five years.
The death rate was slightly higher--about three per million
annually--in Ireland and Norway. In the Netherlands and Sweden, the
death rate was twice that--about six per million each year--while in
South Korea, Australia, Germany, Denmark, and Finland, the
average was about eight per million, the report found.
By comparison, the death rate in the United States, according to
UNICEF, was three times higher, at 24 per million, while in Mexico, it
came to 30 per million and in Portugal, the highest, 37 per million
The findings are certain to be controversial, primarily because
governments do not use a uniform methodology for determining
maltreatment or even the cause of death, and because of differences
across nations in the willingness of families to report
maltreatment or of police to investigate it.
Recognizing these problems, UNICEF researchers used statistics
provided by the governments on both known cases of abuse or
neglect as a base-line and then added to those totals all child deaths
that were recorded as being of "undetermined cause."
"The assumption made is that when no other cause can be established,
the death is likely the result of maltreatment that cannot be
proven in a court of law," the study said. Using the revised
calculations, Portugal, whose government statistics found that only
children died of maltreatment annually (placing it among the
better-performing nations), plunged to the bottom of the OECD
Similarly, for France, the death rate from maltreatment rose from five
per million to 14 per million when deaths due to "undetermined
causes" were added. Its ranking fell from 11 to 24, just above the
Aside from Portugal and France, however, the rankings in the revised
table remained generally consistent with those based solely
on the government's official statistics.
The report, also based on scores of statistical studies on child
deaths in OECD countries, found that countries with the lowest
maltreatment rates also have very low rates of homicides from assault.
Similarly, the three nations with the highest rates of child
deaths from maltreatment--the U. S., Mexico, and Portugal--also
recorded the highest adult death rates.
The study reported some good news. Using the same methodology for
child deaths recorded in the 1970s, UNICEF found that child
deaths from maltreatment appear to have declined in virtually all
countries covered by the report.
Reducing maltreatment appeared to rely, above all, on public awareness
about the problem; the frequency of visits by social and
health workers where maltreatment has been reported or is suspected;
and efforts to reduce poverty.
The report found that poverty and stress--along with drug and alcohol
abuse--appear to be the factors most closely and consistently
associated with child abuse and neglect.
It noted that seven OECD countries--Austria, Denmark, Finland,
Germany, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden--have all adopted laws that
explicitly forbid physical punishment of children. Assessments of
these efforts suggest that they have been helpful in raising public
awareness and discussion about the issue, one of the major factors in
reducing the problem.
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