Good arguments for public funding of peace education, conflict resolution,
Jun. 9, 2004. 12:24 PM
Violent crime costs billions: WHO report
BY WILLIAM J. KOLE
VIENNA (AP-CP) - Violence in homes and on the streets worldwide devastates
economies as well as lives, the UN health agency warned today in a report
detailing how countries are spending billions a year dealing with the
Some countries are devoting more than four per cent of their gross domestic
product to arresting, trying and imprisoning violent offenders and providing
medical and psychiatric care to victims of rape, child abuse and domestic
violence, the World Health Organization said.
The report, released at a global conference in Vienna on injury prevention
and safety promotion, said the economic impact of violence was inflicting a
staggering cost to society.
"Beyond the very personal human tragedies associated with each and every
case of violence, its consequences are extremely costly to society in
economic terms," said Dr. Catherine Le Gales-Camus, a WHO assistant director
"Responding to violence diverts billions of dollars away from education,
social security, housing and recreation, into the essential but seemingly
never-ending tasks of providing care for victims and criminal justice
interventions for perpetrators," she said.
Worldwide, 1.6 million people die from violence each year, and millions of
others suffer injuries, lingering physical, mental, sexual or reproductive
problems, and lost wages and productivity, WHO said. It said violence
remains a leading cause of death among people aged 15 to 44.
The study, which examined the cost of violence-related health expenditures
as a percentage of gross domestic product, or GDP, in select countries, said
violent crime was most costly in Colombia and El Salvador, both of which
were spending 4.3 per cent of GDP on the aftermath.
It excluded the costs of war, focusing instead on "interpersonal violence" -
street crime, violence in the workplace and domestic violence, including
child, spouse and elder abuse.
Among the reports cited in the WHO study was one published in 1995 by the
University of Western Ontario in London, Ont., which calculated the costs of
violence against women in Canada. Including health-care costs, policing,
legal fees, incarceration, lost earnings and psychological costs, violence
against women annually costs an estimated $1.2 billion (U.S.).
A 2002 Health Canada study cited by WHO calculated a cost of $1.1 billion
just for the direct medical costs of violence against women in Canada.
Although the economic impact of violence tends to be most acute in poorer
countries, homicide is most costly to highly developed countries because of
the victims' lost future income, WHO said.
A single murder costs, on average, $15,319 (all figures U.S.) in South
Africa, $602,000 in Australia, $829,000 n New Zealand and more than $2
million in the United States, it said.
Violent crime costs England and Wales nearly $64 billion (U.S.) a year, the
report said. Homicide alone costs Australia an estimated $194 million a
year, and violence annually drains $837 million from the Australian economy,
In the U.S., violence costs up to $300 billion a year, WHO said, citing one
study that estimates that child abuse alone costs the U.S. economy $94
billion every year, or one per cent of GDP. Overall, the United States
spends 3.3 per cent of GDP on violence-related issues.
Violent crime committed by a minor in America typically costs the victim
$16,600 to $17,700 and another $44,000 in expenses to the criminal justice
system, the report said.
"Evidence abounds that the public sector, and thus society in general -
bears much of the economic burden of interpersonal violence," said WHO,
which reviewed 119 studies on the economic fallout of violence worldwide for
Only a few studies have examined the benefits of violence prevention
programs, but they appear to help cut such costs, at least in industrialized
nations, said Dr. Alexander Butchart, WHO's co-ordinator for violence
"While it would still need to be established if the same results will be
obtained in developing countries, these findings suggest that violence
prevention is not only good for health and safety, but also sound
economics," he said.
The costs of the benefits of Canada's gun-registry law were examined in a
1996 study that appeared in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. The
cost to implement the system was estimated to be $70 million - most of which
accrues on a one-time basis - compared to annual direct costs of gun-related
violence of $50 million to Canada's health-care system.
In fact, the federal gun registry has already cost much more. In 2002
Canada's auditor general stated that the program would cost taxpayers about
$1 billion by 2005 rather than the projected $2 million.
WHO said, citing a 1995 report, that when the indirect costs of gun violence
were included, the economic benefits of the law were much clearer. The total
costs of firearm-related injuries in Canada were calculated to be $5.6
billion, including lost productivity and psychological costs.