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Child injuries leave lifelong scars

© UNICEF Malaysia/2007/Mohan
Road traffic accidents are the number one cause of child deaths from injuries.

By Tee Shiao Eek

KUALA LUMPUR, 2 February 2009 – Barely three days into the new year in January, three children under 12 were killed in a pile-up after their parents’ car rammed into a four-wheel drive on the highway in East Malaysia.

The new rear seatbelt law had just come into force on 1 January, but it made little difference to the lives of the three children, who had not been buckled up.

Worldwide, more than 2,000 children die every day as a result of unintentional or accidental injuries. Every year tens of millions more are taken to hospitals with injuries that often leave them with lifelong disabilities, as well as significant psychosocial and financial consequences.

“The lives of these children’s families are torn apart by the loss of their child or ‘the child they once knew’. The grief reverberates through the extended family, including grandparents, aunts and uncles, and even the entire community,” said Mr Youssouf Oomar, UNICEF Representative to Malaysia.

Major child killer

Unintentional injuries are a major killer of children throughout the world, even though they are largely preventable.

These injuries kill approximately 830,000 children under 18 every year and are among the top three causes of death among children aged 5– 19 years.

These alarming statistics were highlighted in the ‘World Report on Child Injury Prevention’, a report released by UNICEF and World Health Organisation (WHO) in December 2008.

This report provides the first comprehensive global assessment of unintentional childhood injuries, highlighting this issue as a serious public health concern, particularly among children over one year.

The top five causes of child deaths from injuries are:

  • Road crashes: They kill 260,000 children a year and injure about 10 million. They are the leading cause of death among 10-19 year olds.
  • Drowning: It kills more than 175,000 children a year and causes significant economic, health and psychosocial consequences for those who survive.
  • Burns: Fire-related burns kill nearly 96,000 children a year.
  • Falls: Nearly 47,000 children fall to their deaths every year.
  • Poisoning: More than 45,000 children die each year from unintended poisoning.

Child injuries in Malaysia

In Malaysia, more than half of the unintentional injury cases admitted to Government hospitals from 1999 to 2002 were due to road traffic accidents (source: Ministry of Health Malaysia). Among the males, the proportion of deaths from these accidents was highest among those aged 12 to 19.

Falls were the second most common cause of unintentional injuries admitted to Government hospitals, with a higher proportion of cases among males and females aged five to 19. Burns, corrosion and exposure to heat substances, as well as accidental drowning, were also more common among children.

A vulnerable group

“Children are more vulnerable to accidental injuries because of their small physical stature, their innate curiosity and desire to experiment, their inability to comprehend or respond to danger, as well as certain physical characteristics, such as smaller airways, thinner skin and lower body mass,” Mr Youssouf explained.

Simply reproducing injury prevention strategies that protect adults is not the answer. For instance, airbags in the front seat of a car could be harmful to children under 13 years, while blister packaging tablets may not be child-resistant.

There is evidence from industrialised countries about interventions and practices that work. Such interventions should be implemented by governments as part of national child health programs.

The tragedy of any child injury, such as paralysis from a car crash, brain damage from a drowning incident or emotional trauma from an accident, is unnecessary and preventable.





World Report

World Report on Child Injury Prevention.

Companion Publication for Children

Have Fun, Be Safe!


UNICEF Innocenti Working Papers: Child Mortality and Injury in Asia, 2008.


3 February 2009:
Keep kids safe from injury


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