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Youth violence around the world

Violence by young people is one of the most visible forms of violence in society. Around the world, newspapers and the broadcast media report daily on violence by gangs, in schools or by young people on the streets. The main victims and perpetrators of such violence, almost everywhere, are themselves adolescents and young adults. Homicide and non-fatal assaults involving young people contribute greatly to the global burden of premature death, injury and disability. Youth violence deeply harms not only its victims, but also their families, friends and communities. Its effects are seen not only in death, illness and disability, but also in terms of the quality of life. Violence involving young people adds greatly to the costs of health and welfare services, reduces productivity, decreases the value of property, disrupts a range of essential services and generally undermines the fabric of society. The problem of youth violence cannot be viewed in isolation from other problem behaviours. Violent young people tend to commit a range of crimes.They also often display other problems, such as truancy and dropping out of school, substance abuse, compulsive lying, reckless driving and high rates of sexually transmitted diseases. However, not all violent youths have significant problems other than their violence and not all young people with problems are necessarily violent. There are close links between youth violence and other forms of violence. Witnessing violence in the home or being physically or sexually abused, for instance, may condition children or adolescents to regard violence as an acceptable means of resolving problems. Prolonged exposure to armed conflicts may also contribute to a general culture of terror that increases the incidence of youth violence. Understanding the factors that increase the risk of young people being the victims or perpetrators of violence is essential for developing effective policies and programmes to prevent violence. For the purposes of this report, youths are defined as people between the ages of 10 and 29 years. High rates of offending and victimization nevertheless often extend as far as the 30–35 years age bracket, and this group of older, young adults should also be taken into account in trying to understand and prevent youth violence. The extent of the problem – Youth homicide rates. In 2000, an estimated 199 000 youth homicides (9.2 per 100 000 population) occurred globally. In other words, an average of 565 children, adolescents and young adults between the ages of 10 and 29 years die each day as a result of interpersonal violence. Homicide rates vary considerably by region, ranging from 0.9 per 100 000 in the high-income countries of Europe and parts of Asia and the Pacific, to 17.6 per 100 000 in Africa and 36.4 per 100 000 in Latin America. There are also wide variations between individual countries in youth homicide rates. Among the countries for which data are available, the rates are highest in Latin America (for example, 84.4 per 100 000 in Colombia and 50.2 per 100 000 in El Salvador), the Caribbean (for example, 41.8 per 100 000 in Puerto Rico), the Russian Federation (18.0 per 100 000) and some countries of south-eastern Europe (for example, 28.2 per 100 000 in Albania). Apart from the United States of America, where the rate stands at 11.0 per 100 000, most of the countries with youth homicide rates above 10.0 per 100 000 are either developing countries or those experiencing rapid social and economic changes. The countries with low rates of youth homicide tend to be in Western Europe – for example, France (0.6 per 100 000), Germany (0.8 per 100 000), and the United Kingdom (0.9 per 100 000) – or in Asia, such as Japan (0.4 per 100 000). Several countries have fewer than 20 youth homicides a year. Almost everywhere, youth homicide rates are substantially lower among females than among males, suggesting that being a male is a strong demographic risk factor. The ratio of the male youth homicide rate to the female rate tends to be higher in those countries with high male rates. For example, the ratio is 13.1:1 in Colombia, 14.6:1 in El Salvador, 16.0:1 in the Philippines and 16.5:1 in Venezuela. Where male rates are lower, the ratio is usually lower – such as in Hungary (0.9:1), and the Netherlands and the Republic of Korea (1.6:1). The variation between countries in the female homicide rate is considerably less than the variation in the male rate. Epidemiological findings on youth homicide are scant in those countries and regions where mortality data are lacking or incomplete. Where proper data on youth homicide do exist, such as in several studies in countries in Africa (including Nigeria, South Africa and the United Republic of Tanzania) and in Asia and the Pacific (such as China (including the Province of Taiwan) and Fiji) (9–16), similar epidemiological patterns have been reported, namely: — a marked preponderance of male over female homicide victims; — a substantial variation in rates between countries and between regions.