More than 20,000 children in rich countries will die from injuries
in the next twelve months, says UNICEF
UNICEF publishes first league table of child deaths from injury
6 February 2001: UNICEF publishes today the first league table of
child deaths by injury and concludes that injuries kill over 20,000
children aged 1 to 14 every year in the world's wealthiest nations.
The new research, published in the UNICEF
Innocenti Report Card, provides the most comprehensive estimates
so far of child injury deaths across the member countries of the OECD.
In every single industrialized country, injury has now become the leading
killer of 1 to 14 year-olds - accounting for almost 40 per cent of deaths
in that age group. And for every injured child who dies, many more live
on with varying degrees of disability and trauma.
The UNICEF league table ranks countries according to their injury death
rates for children aged 1 to 14. Sweden, the United Kingdom, Italy and
the Netherlands occupy the top four places - all with injury death rates
below 7 per 100,000. At the bottom of the league are the United States
and Portugal, where the rate of child injury deaths is over twice the
level of the leading countries, and South Korea where the rate is four
Overall the likelihood of a child dying from injury has been falling
steadily in recent years. But different nations have been progressing
at very different speeds in the battle to save young lives. At least
12,000 child deaths a year could still be prevented if all OECD countries
had the same child injury death rate as Sweden - which is at the top
of the league. If the members of the European Union were all to achieve
the same safety levels as Sweden approximately 1,600 young lives would
be saved annually in Europe alone. France and Germany could each prevent
around 400 child deaths. The United States could save 4,700 children
In general the league table shows a clear relationship between child
injury death rates and national wealth; but it also shows that this
relationship is far from fixed. Two of the richest countries Switzerland
and Canada find themselves in the bottom half of the league. Greece
and Portugal have similar GDP per capita, but Greece has a child injury
death rate less than half that of Portugal.
By comparing data from different countries, the new research asks what
can be learned about the causes of child injury deaths and examines
the policies that have contributed to lower rates in the top ranking
countries. UNICEF finds that even those countries in the top half of
the child safety league table could do better in preventing child deaths
from specific causes. For example, the United Kingdom, with a good record
overall, compares badly to other countries on the rate of children dying
in fires. Germany has a child death rate from drowning that is almost
three times higher than in Italy.
report asks both what is killing children and which children are
dying. Although most countries lack data, it appears that the risk of
child injury death rises steeply with poverty. The likelihood of a child
being injured or killed is also associated with single parenthood, low
maternal education, low maternal age at birth, poor housing, large family
size and parental drug or alcohol abuse. Some research shows children
of indigenous peoples to be at significantly higher risk. An Australian
study showed a 75 times greater risk of death by fire among aboriginal
children and another study has shown the risk of traffic injury among
Hispanic children in the United States to be more than three times higher
than the rate for non-Hispanic children.
Gender also plays a part. Death through injury is much more common
for boys than for girls. UNICEF finds that in the OECD as a whole, boys
aged 1 to 14 were 70 per cent more likely than girls to die from injuries.
The difference between the sexes is greatest for older children, a phenomenon
explained either by boys taking more risks or by parents or schools
being more permissive with boys than girls. But an extraordinary finding
is that the gender gap appears even among the youngest children. A boy
aged 1 to 4 is already 40 per cent more likely to die of injury than
But overall, there is a lack of adequate data and research into exactly
which children are most at risk and this leaves all injury prevention
policy pitifully under-informed, says UNICEF.
The most common causes of child injury deaths include drowning, fire,
falls, poison and intentional injury. But in every individual nation
the spectrum is dominated by road traffic accidents which account in
total for 41 per cent of all child deaths by injury throughout the industrialized
For all the major areas of risk there are proven ways of reducing both
the likelihood and the severity of child injury. But, says UNICEF, many
proven strategies for injury prevention are inadequately implemented.
In an attempt to assess the commitment of rich nations to the cause
of child safety, UNICEF commissioned a study recording the extent to
which each country has legislated in favour of certain well-known safety
measures - cycle helmets, speed limits in built up areas, child safety
seats in cars, seat-belt wearing by children, child safety packaging
for pharmaceuticals, smoke detectors in homes, and playground safety
standards. It finds that not one country has legislated in all seven
of these obvious areas for child protection and some have acted in as
few as three.
Such inadequate implementation of already proven strategies for injury
prevention exposes a
need for renewed commitment to the cause of child safety in the world's
richest nations, says UNICEF.
Finally, the analysis of child injury deaths in rich nations carries
with it vital lessons for the developing world where an estimated one
million children under 15 die each year from injuries. The rate of child
deaths in traffic accidents is today more than five times higher in
Africa than in the European Union even though Africa is still at the
beginning of the growth curve in vehicle ownership. Millions of child
deaths in the developing world could be prevented by learning the lessons
acquired so painfully by the industrialized nations, says UNICEF.
This publication is the second in a series of Innocenti Report Cards,
designed to monitor the performance of the industrialized countries
in meeting the needs of their children. Each Report Card presents and
analyses league tables ranking the performance of rich nations against
critical indicators of child well being. The first report in the series
published in June 2000 focused on child poverty. The next Report Card
will investigate teenage pregnancy - a critical factor in a cycle of
poverty, educational disadvantage and social exclusion among children
in rich nations.
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For further information, please contact:
Patrick McCormick, Communication Officer, UNICEF Florence,
Jehane Sedky-Lavandero, UNICEF
Media, New York, (212) 326-7269