Tracking National Homicide Rates: Generating Estimates Using Vital Registration Data (AV Issue Brief 1)

Kavi Bhalla, Richard Matzopoulos, James Harrison, Lisa Knowlton, Elisabeth Gilgen, and Anna Alvazzi del Frate
Issue Brief

Violent deaths make up a substantial proportion of global mortality and morbidity: up to 600,000 occur annually, accounting for around one per cent of global deaths. Among young adult males, deaths from intentional interpersonal violence—homicides—account for over ten per cent of all deaths.

Comparison among national homicide counts, which are usually based on law enforcement and criminal justice system records, is problematic.  Under-reporting; differences between national legal systems in their definitions; and differences in recording practices often make it impossible to compare crime data among countries.

Tracking National Homicide Rates:  Generating Estimates Using Vital Registration Datathe first Armed Violence and Development Issue Brief from the Small Arms Survey—describes how national vital registration systems can provide an alternate source for estimating national homicide statistics.  To that end, the Issue Brief analyses the regional availability and quality of death registration data.

When death certificates include records of causes of death, using the standardized International Statistical Classification of Disease and Related Health Problems (ICD) framework, homicide statistics derived from death registration data are more easily comparable across countries than those derived from criminal justice data.

Key findings of Tracking National Homicide Rates include:

  • While death registration data is available for most high-income countries, its availability is erratic in other regions.
  • Death registration-based homicide estimates show that homicide rates are substantially higher in Eastern Europe, the Caribbean, and Latin America, as compared with other regions of the world.
  • While homicide rates are relatively low in most high-income countries, the United States is a notable exception.
  • Homicide rates are relatively stable in many regions and declining in Central and Eastern Europe.
  • Weapons used in homicides are most commonly firearms and sharp objects. In the most violent countries, homicides are most commonly committed using firearms.

This Issue Brief was produced and published as part of the Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development, a high-level diplomatic initiative designed to help states and civil society actors to achieve measurable reductions in the global burden of armed violence and tangible improvements in human security worldwide.

See also Annexe 1 (Total homicide rate), Annexe 2 (Homicide victim age distribution), and Annexe 3 (Homicide mechanisms).

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Keywords: Armed violence Homicide