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March 2000Vol. 1, No. 1Studies Link Child Mortality to Abused Mothers

A report that takes a worldwide look at domestic violence includes studies that link child mortality to abuse against their mothers.

According to the authors of "Ending the Violence Against Women," the studies cited are the first to demonstrate such a link. A Nicaraguan study concluded that children of abused women were six times more likely than other children to die before age 5. An Indian study found that abused women are at higher risk of miscarriages, stillbirths, and infant deaths. While it is unclear exactly how domestic violence affects child survival, battered women are more likely to give birth to low birth weight children, a risk factor for neonatal and infant deaths. Mothers with violent partners may also have lower self-esteem, less mobility, weaker bargaining power, and less access to resources and thus are less able to keep their children healthy. In Nicaraguan and Indian studies, children of abused women were more likely to be malnourished. Additional 1998 data show that Nicaraguan children of battered mothers were more likely to have had a recent untreated case of diarrhea and less likely to have been immunized against childhood diseases.

Women that are physically and sexually abused as adults were often sexually abused as children. From the few representative surveys that exist, the authors note that child sexual abuse is widespread in virtually all societies. Studies show that girls are least 1.5 to 3 times more likely to be victims of sexual abuse than boys. A study in Barbados found that 30% of women and 2% of men reported sexual abuse in childhood or adolescence. Women who are sexually abused in childhood can suffer behavioral, mental, and emotional problems. They are also more likely to be suicidal, abuse alcohol and drugs, and take sexual risks. Regardless of the sex of the victim, the vast majority of child sexual abuse perpetrators are male and known to the victim.

The report analyzes data from 2,000 domestic violence studies conducted in at least 20 countries. Based on their findings, the authors estimate that one-third of women worldwide have been abused in some way. The report characterizes violence against women as a worldwide health problem.

The report was released in January by Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and the Center for Health and Gender Equity and is available full-text at