Child abuse costs nations worldwide billions of dollars a year, experts report.
In high-income nations, the median cost of child abuse equals a loss of 1.2 percent of per capita income, or $150 billion a year in the United States. The estimated cost in China — a middle-income country — is $50 billion a year, the experts added.
In East Asia and the Pacific, the cost of emotional child abuse alone is more than $48 billion a year, the researchers said.
The findings, from an international panel of experts, were to be presented Feb. 12 at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C.
“Violence against children is prevalent across countries at all income levels, in all forms,” panel co-organizer Sue Horton said in a news release from the University of Waterloo in Canada, where she is a professor and chairwoman in global health economics.
“In addition to a rights-based case, there is now a stronger than ever economic case for protecting children against violence,” she added.
The financial cost of child abuse includes treatment of physical injuries, future loss of productivity due to injuries, as well as lower levels of education and future income. Also, child abuse is associated with higher health costs in adulthood.
Child abuse rates are higher in low-income countries. For example, 90 percent of children in West and Central Africa are either physically or mentally disciplined at home, and the rate is 74 percent in East Asia and the Pacific, the researchers said.
“While child abuse rates are tied to a country’s economic status, that is no excuse for the continued prevalence,” panel co-organizer Susan Bissell, director of the Global Partnership to End Violence against Children at UNICEF, said in the news release.
“There are known interventions which are effective in preventing violence and supporting children who have experienced violence. Many of these are cost-effective and provide good value for public money,” she added.
Laws to protect children from violent punishment are highly effective, the experts said. Parent education programs, home visits and sex abuse prevention programs are also proven strategies.
Research presented at meetings is considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The U.S. Children’s Bureau has more about child abuse and neglect.