As the 2020 pandemic spread across the United States, the number of children killed skyrocketed, as did the number of people injured by gunfire, scientists reported Monday in two studies.
A majority of the killings involved black children, and nearly half involved children in the southern United States. Each of these groups also accounted for the most children admitted to children’s hospitals with gunshot wounds.
The rate of infanticide in the United States rose about 28 percent in 2020, from 2.2 per 100,000 in 2019 to 2.8 per 100,000 in 2020, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found.
Homicide is the leading cause of death among American children, making the United States an outlier among similarly developed nations where auto accidents, cancer, and other diseases and injuries are the leading causes of death.
About half of these are caused by firearms. But younger children are more likely to be killed by physical attacks than by firearms, including beatings or attacks with sharps or blunt instruments.
Firearm homicides among children have also increased significantly in recent years. In a review of recent gun data, the New York Times reported last week that gun homicides involving children have increased more than 73 percent since 2018 and that risk disparities between black children and others are rapidly widening.
The authors of the new study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, said the data highlight a public health issue “that deserves immediate attention.” Killings of children are “in principle avoidable”, but they are becoming “more frequent, not less”, according to an accompanying editorial.
Overall, older children and boys of all ages were more likely to be victims of gun violence than younger children and girls. The CDC found an overall decrease in homicide rates among girls, infants, and children under the age of 6, as well as white children, children of Asian or Pacific Islander origin, and children in the Northeast.
Homicides involving young children often occur in or near the home and are most commonly committed by parents and caregivers. The murders are often related to child abuse and neglect and reflect the stress families experience, said Dr. Elinor J. Kaufman, trauma surgeon at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine and co-author of the homicide study editorial.
“I don’t think we’re doing a good job of taking care of families, and it shows,” said Dr. said Kaufmann in an interview.
Older children and young people, on the other hand, are more likely to be killed in fights with acquaintances or strangers in public places, she noted. Guns are more likely to be involved in these killings, and the violence reflects the deprivation that disproportionately affects black and other communities of color.
The study found that racial segregation exposed children of color to “concentrated poverty, segregated and underfunded education systems, environmental hazards, lack of safe playgrounds, and limited opportunities.”
The researchers suggested that such unfair living conditions may play a large role in the persistent disparities in child homicide rates.
As a trauma surgeon, Dr. Kaufman said she has seen the aftermath of record gun violence in Philadelphia, which has increased during the pandemic and has continued with little sign of abating.
“We’re sitting on this high plateau and we’re not seeing much improvement, except maybe a little bit,” said Dr. said merchant.
The rise in infanticide is part of a decade-long trend. Rates have been increasing slowly but steadily since 2013, after declining from 2007 to 2013. In 2020, the first year of the pandemic, the number rose, and 2,058 children aged 17 and under were victims of homicide, up from 1,611 in 2019.
A research letter from pediatric surgeons at the University of Utah School of Medicine was also published in JAMA Pediatrics Monday. This study compared the number of children admitted to the country’s children’s hospitals for treatment over two 21-month periods, one prior to the pandemic and the other beginning in April 2020, when the pandemic was gaining momentum.
The number of children seeking help for gunshot wounds rose to 2,759 in the second 21-month period from 1,815 in the first period, an increase of just over 50 percent.