The WHO report on violence throughout the World

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Homicide is the third leading cause of death globally for males aged 15-44 years. In general, there are 1.3 million people worldwide die each year from some form of violence, particularly among low-income people. A quarter of all adults report having been physically abused as children, one in five women reports having sexually abused as a child. One in three women has been a victim of physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner at some point in her lifetime. And one in 17 older adults reported abuses in the past month.

These are just some of the data contained within the Global status report on violence prevention in 2014, published in December 2014, the first WHO study that provides an accurate picture of the current situation concerning violence worldwide.



Violence is still widespread, but at the same time, just over half the countries are fully enforcing a set of twelve laws generally acknowledged to prevent violence. That is because there are many countries in the world that are still lacking an effective system of data collection for the monitoring of the main forms of violence, as armed violence, violence against women, children and elderly people. Furthermore, only half of all countries have services in place to protect and support victims of violence. The consequences of violence on physical, mental, sexual and reproductive health often last for the whole lifetime. Violence also contributes to leading causes of death such as cancer, heart disease and HIV/AIDS, because victims are at an increased risk of adopting behaviours such as smoking, alcohol and drug misuse, and unsafe sex.

The starting assumption of the WHO is that violence, even if it cannot obviously be eradicated from human being, it can at least be reduced through good practices. Violence is a significant public health problem in its own right, and a major risk factor for lifelong ill health and other social problems. A kind of combination that can lead to substantial economic costs. Moreover, violence is not synonymous of death, of course. Non-fatal acts of violence take a particular toll on women and children. One out of four children has been physically abused; one out of five girls has been sexually abused; and one out of three women has been a victim of physical or sexual intimate partner violence at some point in her lifetime.

How can we act?

According to the report, we can prevent violence through two main steps: with effective monitoring systems at national level and by precise rules, laws and initiatives to fight the culture of violence. "Violence is a multifaceted problem with biological, psychological, social and environmental roots" we read in the report.

First step: we need national surveys

The starting point – WHO writes – are always them: data. Trying to collect as much data as possible on violence, in order to better understand where and how stakeholders must act. But this kind of data are not simple to collect. We need efficient and comprehensive monitoring systems, which still do not exist in many countries. A prime example is the number of homicides in the world. Fully 60 percent of countries do not have usable data on homicide from civil registration or vital sources.

Nowadays, it is still impossible to construct a complete map of the surveillance activities currently active worldwide, since for many countries, the WHO has no data. In any case, even just looking at the available data, we realize that there are not many areas of the world that provide monitoring for all forms of violence identified by WHO, which means armed violence, violence against children, women or to elderly people. If the map that photographs violence against children is in fact quite coloured green, which means the presence of a surveillance system of this form of violence, things are not going so well about armed violence or, more generally, on interpersonal violence.

Interpersonal violence map

Armed violence map

Second step: we need national action plans

This means acting to correct information, educating children to non-violence in schools, trying to encourage dialogue between young people and adults. And from a more practical point of view, lowering for example the use of alcohol between adult individuals, monitor the possession of weapons, whether guns or knives, planning paths to promote gender equality. The report calls for a scaling up of violence prevention programmes in all countries; stronger legislation and enforcement of laws relevant for violence prevention; strengthened justice and security institutions to uphold the rule of law.

However, laws apart, the crucial point remains the presence of a concrete plan of action at the national level and also in this case data are few. They are only 133 countries in the world where you can do the assessments. However, based on the information in our possession, it remains clear that despite the WHO warnings, there are still many countries in the world where even today violence is not perceived as an enemy to fight.

Even in Europe.

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