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Crisis: Murder of Very Young Children in the United States

by Richard Aiken MD PhD @rcaiken

I just read a news report titled “Father slashes son’s throat, nearly decapitating 2-year-old[1]”. This was so disturbing that I investigated murder of individuals by age groups.

The cause of death by “interpersonal violence”, i.e. murder, using the Global Burden of Disease data assembled by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington[2] is shown on Figure 1 for the time interval 2010 – 2016 (note EN means 0 – 6 days old and PN is 7 days to 1 year old; the line is the mean value).

murder 2010 - 2016

Figure 1 Murder of males in the US 2010 – 2016 by age

Several aspects of these data are shocking.  First, comparison to previous 5 year intervals reveals that the most likely age of those murdered is becoming younger.  For example, in the 5 year interval 1980 – 1984, the most likely age to be murdered was about 27 years old; from the data in Figure 1, it is about 15 years old.

Second, the curve is not Gaussian – it is bimodal with two peaks at 15 and at about 2 – 3 years old. This means that young adolescents and young children are being disproportionately murdered.  Let’s examine the first most likely peak in murder rate, that of young children.

Although the untimely deaths of children due to illness and accidents are closely monitored, deaths that result from physical abuse or severe neglect is more difficult to track.  This is particularly true of the very young, ages 0 – 5 years old prior to their introduction into communities through schools and community activities where there is a degree of monitoring outside the family environment. Child fatalities due to abuse and neglect are very likely underreported.

The highest risk of child homicide victimization is on the first day of life, known as “neonaticide”. Neonaticide is almost always committed by the mother acting alone; the biologic father is frequently no longer a part of the mother’s life. Neonaticidal mothers are often in their teens or 20s; unmarried; and of lower socioeconomic status[3] and the pregnancy is unwanted. Note these deaths are not reported in Figure 1.

An examination of child abuse and neglect resulting in death in the year 2015 from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, indicates that about three-quarters (74.8%) of child fatalities involved children younger than 3 years, and children younger than 1 year accounted for about 50% (49.4 %) of all fatalities as shown in Figure 2 [4].

abuse neglect fatalities children 2015

This is a crisis that must be recognized and then have the highest priority to eliminate.

[1] http://www.foxnews.com/us/2018/02/23/father-slashes-sons-throat-nearly-decapitating-2-year-old-police.html

[2] Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). Causes of Death (COD) Data Visualization. Seattle, WA: IHME, University of Washington, 2017. Available from http://vizhub.healthdata.org/cod. (Accessed February 18, 2018)

[3] Friedman, S. H., & Resnick, P. J. (2009). Neonaticide: Phenomenology and considerations for prevention. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 32(1), 43-47. doi:10.1016/j.ijlp.2008.11.006

[4] U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau. (2017). Child Maltreatment 2015. Available from http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/research-data-technology/statistics-research/child-maltreatment.

 

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