Forty young Europeans murdered every day: new WHO report shows these deaths can be avoided

Copenhagen and London, 21 September 2010

Violence claims the lives of 40 young people every day in the WHO European Region – over 15 000 each year – according to new data from WHO; 4 out of 10 of these homicides are perpetrated with knives.

The European report on preventing violence and knife crime among young people is the first comprehensive report published in Europe on young deaths from violence and stabbings. Launched today by the WHO Regional Office for Europe on the occasion of the Safety 2010 world conference in London, it highlights the enormous loss to society from youth violence in European countries and the huge benefits of a public health approach, complementing the criminal justice approach. The report was sponsored by the Department of Health in England and the Government of the United Kingdom.

“There is much to be gained by adapting the experience of some of the most successful European countries in preventing violence. If all countries reached the same homicide rates as the lowest in the Region, Europe could potentially save over 13 000 young lives per year. In other words, 9 out of 10 such deaths could be avoided,” says Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe. “This makes compelling arguments for increased investment in violence prevention, especially when rising unemployment and weakened social welfare are associated with increased violence.”

Violence is spread unevenly

Interpersonal violence is the third leading cause of death in Europe among those aged 10–29 years, accounting for 15 000 homicides yearly. This is only the tip of the iceberg, as estimates suggest that for every young person who dies, 20 more are admitted to hospital.
Some 40% of homicides, or 6000 yearly, are carried out with knives and other sharp weapons. Knife-carrying is relatively common in many countries (up to 12% of young people carry them) and increases the likelihood of serious injury or death. Other means of committing homicide include firearms and strangulation.

Wealth and gender influence violence: 9 of 10 homicides occur in low- and middle-income countries in the Region, and there is a 34-fold difference between the countries with the highest and the lowest death rates. In all countries, irrespective of country income, poorer young people are much more at risk of violence than those who are better off. Males bear a heavier burden than females, with 80% of homicide victims being male.

Preventing interpersonal violence is a societal responsibility

Young people are vulnerable to being both victims and perpetrators of violence. Whereas the mass media and society are quick to demonize episodes of violence among young people, the WHO report argues that youth is a period of vulnerability and many of the root causes of violence arise in childhood. Addressing these root causes is a societal responsibility that falls on many sectors, such as health, education, welfare, labour, criminal justice and local government, and is more cost-effective than solely dealing with violence and its consequences.

Being a victim of neglect or abuse in early years may result in aggressive behaviour. Bullying in schools and in the community increases young people’s risk of involvement in violence. There are strong relationships between using alcohol and drugs and carrying a weapon.

The links between childhood adversity and later perpetration or victimization are central to developing a life-course approach to violence prevention. Programmes targeting child development, whether to promote positive parenting or to enhance children’s life and social skills, are proven to make a good return on investments. Both reducing young people’s access to alcohol and weapons and making community settings safer are also crucial.

A public health approach is the key

Violence among young people is a problem that cuts across government departments and sectors. Evidence gathered in this report from countries in Europe and beyond indicates that organized responses by society can prevent it. Interventions that adopt a public health approach to violence prevention are proven to make a good return on investments.

Health systems have a key role to play in providing high-quality services for the treatment, support and rehabilitation of victims, addressing both their physical injuries and the mental effects of violence. In addition, the health sector is best placed to lead evidence-based preventive approaches to address the root causes of violence, in partnership with other sectors.

Safety 2010 is the major conference that brings together stakeholders in the prevention of unintentional injuries and violence from around the world to debate, discuss and exchange information and experiences. The event is co-sponsored by WHO.

For questions about the data contained in the report, please contact:

Dr Dinesh Sethi
Technical Officer, Violence and Injury Prevention
Rome Office
WHO Regional Office for Europe
Tel.: +39 06 4877 538

For further information and interview requests, please contact:

Ms Cristiana Salvi
Technical Officer, Communication
Rome Office
WHO Regional Office for Europe
Tel.: +39 06 4877 543. Mobile: +393480192305