More than 100 children die of abuse and neglect every year die Two children a week die from abuse

Clare Garner
Monday 15 March 1999 00:02 GMT

UP TO two children die from child abuse or neglect every week in Britain, and many more go unrecorded, according to a report by the NSPCC, the most comprehensive ever into child deaths.

Despite public perceptions, only five or six of the 100-odd annual child murders are committed by strangers. In the majority of cases, the perpetrator is a family member, the children's charity report shows.

The Independent has obtained an early draft of the report "Out of Sight", which is due to be published later this week. It reviews deaths from abuse over the past 25 years, and highlights how the abuse of children and young people remains hidden from society.

One contributor, John Fitzgerald, chief executive of the Bridge Child Care Development Service, wrote: "It is outrageous that over 1,000 children die every decade following abuse and neglect.

"If by developing our knowledge and skills, we could collectively halve the number over the next 10 years, that would mean saving the lives of at least 500 children as well as preventing countless life-threatening or disabling injuries."

The NSPCC report coincides with the launch tomorrow of its nationwide campaign to end cruelty to children within a generation. The "Full Stop" campaign features hard-hitting television advertisements designed to open everyone's eyes to child abuse, and to show that most cruelty to children occurs at home.

Another contributor, Dr Jane Wynne, a leading paediatrician at the Leeds General Infirmary, has identified a strong correlation between social deprivation and the death rate of children under the age of two. The excess mortality in the socially disadvantaged children continues throughout childhood, she claims.

Children are most at risk of being killed before they reach the age of one (40 per cent), Dr Wynne notes. A further 20 per cent of child murders occur before the age of four, and the remainder occur up to 15.

Forty-nine per cent of child murders are committed by the father, stepfather or partner of the child's mother, according to Dr Wynne's research. Thirty- three per cent are committed by the child's mother, 4 per cent by siblings, and most of the rest by people who are unrelated but provide care to the child.

Dr Wynne, who is an NSPCC trustee, lists some of the reasons given to explain a murder. They include escalating punishment, as part of "domestic violence", an unwanted baby (which may be disabled), a psychotic parent, and as part of child sexual abuse.

The public is ill-informed about the prevalence of child murders by relatives or care-givers because of the media's selective coverage, according to a study carried out this year by the Glasgow Media Group as part of the NSPCC report.

It shows a sharp decline in the volume of media coverage of child deaths between 1980 and 1998 and claims the media is only interested in blaming professionals or strangers, not family members.

Roy Meadow, president of the British Paediatric Society, did an 18-year study of 81 children thought to have died of natural causes but who were killed by their parents. He wrote : "It is a national scandal that we accept a situation in which so many young children die of unknown causes."

The report includes a table of children who died 1973-1998, detailing causes of death as well as the perpetrators.

Child Murders

Between one and two children are killed by care-givers each week

Five to six children are killed by strangers each year

49 per cent of perpetrators are the child's father, stepfather, or mother's partner

33 per cent of perpetrators are the child's mother

4 per cent of perpetrators are siblings

The rest of the perpetrators are unrelated but providing care to the child

40 per cent of deaths due to homicide occur before the age of one

20 per cent of deaths due to homicide occur between ages of one and four

The remainder occur between the ages of five and 15

Statistics compiled by Dr Jane Wynne for the NSPCC report

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