The number of children killed as the pandemic spread across the U.S. in 2020 rose steeply, as did the number inured by firearms, scientists reported in two studies on Monday, says the New York Times. A majority of the homicides were among Black children, and almost half were among children in the southern U.S. The rate of child homicide rose by about 28 percent in 2020, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found. Homicide is the leading cause of death among children, making the U.S. an outlier among similarly developed nations, where car accidents, cancer, and other illnesses and injuries are the top causes of death. About half of those are caused by firearms. Younger children are more likely to be killed by physical assaults than by firearms, including beatings or attacks with sharp objects or blunt instruments. Gun homicides have risen dramatically among children in recent years. In a review of current data on firearms, gun homicides involving children had increased by more than 73 percent since 2018. The disparity in risk between Black children and others was rapidly widening. The authors of a studypublished in JAMA Pediatrics, said the data highlighted a public health concern “warranting immediate attention.” Child homicides are “fundamentally preventable,” yet they are becoming “more common, not less,” an accompanying editorial said.
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 a decline in homicide rates among girls, infants, and children under 6 as well as among white children, Asian or Pacific Islander children, and children in the Northeast. Homicides of younger children often occur in or near the home and are most commonly perpetrated by parents and caregivers. The homicides often are linked to child abuse and neglect and reflect the stresses experienced by families, said Dr. Elinore Kaufman, a trauma surgeon at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine and a co-author of the editorial. “I don’t think we’re doing a good job of taking care of families, and it shows,” Dr. Kaufman said. Older children and teenagers, on the other hand, were more likely to be killed in altercations with acquaintances or strangers in public places. Guns are more likely to be involved in these killings, and the violence reflects the deprivation that disproportionately affects Black people and other communities of color. The study noted that racial segregation exposed children of color to “concentrated poverty, segregated and underfunded educational systems, environmental hazards, lack of safe play spaces and limited opportunity.” The researchers suggested that inequitable living conditions might play a large role in the persistent disparities in child homicide rates.