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Tuesday, 6 February, 2001, 01:44 GMT
Britain 'safe for children'
Road traffic accidents
The number of children dying in UK car crashes has dropped
Britain is one of the safest countries in the world for children according to a report which reveals that preventable injuries are the leading cause of child death in the world's richest nations.

The United Nation's Children's Fund (Unicef) has published the first ever league table of child death by injury among the 26 countries in the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development).

The data reveals that injuries kill over 20,000 children every year in the world's wealthiest countries.

In the UK the poorest children are up to four times more likely to die from injuries than those in richer households, although overall, the Britain has the second best child safety record.

Safest nations
Sweden
UK
Italy
Netherlands
Norway
The UNICEF data shows that deaths from preventable injuries - such as traffic accidents, drownings, fires, falls and physical attacks - account for almost 40% of deaths among children under 15 in wealthy nations.

And for every injured child who dies, many more live on with varying degrees of disability and trauma.

The UK fares well in the Unicef tables, recording the second lowest number of child injury deaths, after Sweden.

In the years 1991 to 1995, 6.1 children per 100,000 in the UK died as a result of preventable injuries.

At the bottom of the league are the United States and Portugal and South Korea.

The rate in the United States was 14.1 deaths per 100,000 children. In South Korea it was 25.6 per 100,000.

The research shows that across the developed world the overall likelihood of a child dying from injury has been falling steadily in recent years.

Wide variation

But different nations have been progressing at very different rates, and at least 12,000 child deaths a year could be prevented if all OECD countries had the same child injury death rate as Sweden.

The Unicef report finds that the risk of dying from an injury is increased if a child:

  • comes from a single parent family
  • has a mother who has been poorly educated
  • has a young mother
  • lives in poor housing
  • has a lot of brothers and sisters
  • has parents who abuse alcohol or drugs
The report also found that boys are 70% more likely to die from injuries than girls.

Older boys are particularly at risk. However, even a boy aged one to four is 40% more likely to die from an injury than a girl of the same age.

Unicef says that there is a lack of adequate data and research into exactly which children are most at risk.

It says that strategies to reduce child injury are often inadequately implemented.

Unicef estimates that one million children a year die from injuries in the developing world.

The rate of child deaths in traffic accidents is today more than five times higher in Africa than in the European Union even though Africa is still at the beginning of the growth curve in vehicle ownership.

Expert response

Roger Vincent, of the Royal Society for the Protection of Accidents (Rospa), said was encouraging that the UK had a relatively good record on child accident deaths.

Bottom five nations
Korea
Mexico
Portugal
USA
New Zealand
But he said: "Anybody who has had a child who has been killed or seriously injured in an accident is going to be devastated, so every accident is one too many."

Mr Vincent said that while the UK had a good record on cutting deaths in road traffic accidents, the number of child pedestrians who were being killed was still relatively high.

He said Rospa was campaigning to make it compulsory for all vehicles to be fitted with devices to minimise the severity of impact injuries.

He also said it greater efforts were needed to educate the public - and in particular children - about risk.

"Children need to understand risk assessment. If we start early then children will carry those lessons with them through life."

Mr Vincent said part of the problem was that too many different organisations had responsibility for accident policy. He said the time was ripe for more "joined up thinking" on the issue.

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See also:

04 Jan 01 | Health
Identifying the accident prone
01 Dec 00 | Health
Cities 'as dangerous as smoking'
20 Jul 00 | Health
Accident care 'costing lives'
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