Academic journal article International Journal of Child and Adolescent Health

Violence as a Public Health Crisis for Children and Youth: A Study of Mexico

Academic journal article International Journal of Child and Adolescent Health

Violence as a Public Health Crisis for Children and Youth: A Study of Mexico

Article excerpt


Violence results in more than 1.6 million people being killed each year globally, with interpersonal violence as a major factor (1). Many more people suffer from sequelae of non-fatal intentional injuries, including disability, mental disease and chronic ill health (2). In South Africa interpersonal violence is estimated to cause around 1.0 million (6.5% of all) disability adjusted life years (DALYs) (3).

The World Health Assembly first declared violence a major public health problem in 1996. The study of violence from a public health perspective complements existing approaches (mainly from the criminal justice areas) by focusing on prevention through the identification of risk factors (4, 5). This approach has gained considerable traction since the release of the first World Report on Violence and Health by the World Health Organization in 2002, which indicated that at least 85% of homicides were recorded in developing countries. The same report estimated between 73,000 and 90,000 firearms deaths annually in Latin America, three times the world average (6); most of these homicides occurred in Honduras, Guatemala, Salvador, Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, Mexico, as well as Puerto Rico, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, from the Caribbean. Regional proximity to the highly profitable drug market in the United States has contributed to the existence of criminal organizations (7), which have thrived in recent years aided by high levels of political corruption, impunity, growing social inequalities and a steady flow of illegal guns smuggled form the United States to the South (8).

The epidemic of violence In Mexico has attracted attention in recent years. The government strategy implemented since 2006, namely the war on drugs and Merida initiative, was to mobilize the federal security forces in a declared military operation against the drug cartels and criminal organizations (9). Despite the deployment, the homicide rate in this country increased from 8.2 to 23.4 per 100 000 population between the years 2007 and 2012. By 2010 interpersonal violence was the number one cause of death among Mexican youth aged 15 to 24 years, and number three among those aged 10 to 14 years (10).

Children and adolescents, in particular, are now growing up in an environment characterized by threat of becoming a witness or a victim to a violent act, which can be detrimental to their physical and mental health. Available evidence suggests a relationship between early exposure to violence and an increased likelihood of aggressive and violent behavior later in life (11). For some scholars, the probability of adolescents becoming perpetrators of violent or unlawful acts and therefore the increased likelihood of being murdered can be further explained by using a socio-ecological framework (12) (see figure1). This framework covers four different levels of an adolescent's life: individual, family/relational, school/community and societal context, all of which may be critical in identifying potential risk and protective factors for the development of evidence-based violence prevention strategies and the use of public health tools. Health policy requires not only a clear understanding of different expressions of violence (e.g., domestic, self-inflicted, gangs, armed conflict), and the complex driving forces of this epidemic, but also the translation of knowledge from many disciplines into human rights protection and a stronger public health framework.

The socio-ecological framework (see figure 1) has the following components:

· Individual level (e.g., biological factors, demographics, social, gender and racial background; substance abuse)

· Interpersonal level (e.g., relationship to family and friends, social capital, gang involvement)

· Community level (e.g., neighborhood); crime rates and safety issues

· Society level (e.g., acceptability of violence and machismo cultural values, gangs, availability of guns, police corruption and weak institutions). …

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