Focus on Child safety


The time is right to invest in saving children's lives in Europe.

The opportunities to make a difference in the lives of European children could not get better by addressing the number one killer of children.

The need to tackle the child injury epidemic.

Injury to children is the number one cause of death for children in every Member State in Europe, not cancer, not respiratory or heart illnesses, or meningitis. Child injury accounts for 36% of all deaths and has the largest environmental burden of disease, with an average of 20,000 deaths for children less than 15 years of age, every year. That is 3 children dying from injury every 3 hours. Yet the impact of injury goes even further. A study in the Netherlands demonstrated that for each child and adolescent death another 150 are hospitalised, another 2,700 treated in emergency departments and still a further 5,000 have a general practice visit for care. For most countries road accidents are the leading cause of injury deaths, yet in some countries in Central and Eastern Europe drowning is the number one cause of child injury deaths.

Children in low and middle income countries are at 4 times the risk of dying from injuries than children in high income countries within Europe, with a ten fold difference between countries with the highest and lowest injury death rates. If all countries in Europe had the same child injury death rate as Sweden (3.6 per 100,000) then over 15,000 child deaths could be prevented. A study in the United Kingdom demonstrated that for children living in the most deprived conditions versus the least deprived conditions the risk of injury is 5 times higher for pedestrians, 16 times higher for fires, 7 times higher for falls, 6 times higher for drowning and 6 times higher for homicides.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most universally embraced human rights treaty in history states that the child has the right to the highest attainable level of health and the right to a safe environment. Therefore, we have a duty to ensure children's rights to safety, and in particular for the following reasons:

  • Children do not have access to adequate information, and are not capable of understanding all the implications of such information even if they had it, about the products they use and the environments in which they live, play and travel.
  • Very often, many of the environments they have to be in, like roads, schools, playgrounds, and even homes, are not by their own choice or their parents'. The socio-economic conditions they live in determine these options to a large extent.
  • It is not possible for children or their parents to judge the potential hazards of many of the modern technological products, especially chemicals.

Therefore, it becomes imperative for society to ensure the safety of children as a fundamental human right. The convention also states "in all actions concerning children…the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration": that means actions to improve the lives of children should take precedence over the blocking arguments used by vested interests, such as "this measure will be too expensive" or "the time is not right for that action".

Proven good practice works

Injury is predictable and preventable. Research has validated proven good practices that reduce injury deaths and disability, most often through a combined approach of education, engineering and enforcement measures. Action needs to be taken to adopt and implement what has been proven to work.

  • Injuries from road accidents have been more than halved for example with reduced speed limits, traffic calming, safer car fronts for pedestrians and cyclists, child passenger restraints and bicycle helmets, where these measures have been enforced.
  • Drowning deaths have been reduced with the use of pool fencing and personal floatation devices.

Burns and scalds have been more than halved with the use of smoke detectors, · water temperature regulators, child resistant cigarette lighters, and clothing that does not easily catch on fire or burns more slowly.

  • Fall injuries and deaths have been reduced with the use of window and balcony guards and stair gates. As well, but to a lesser extent, reduction of serious head injuries in playgrounds through the relationship between height of equipment and impact absorbing surfacing in playgrounds.
  • Poisonings have also been reduced by one third using child resistant packaging, safe storage units and education programmes.
  • Choking, suffocation and strangulation have been reduced with product and environment modifications/redesign that have been researched and prepared for standards and regulations.
  • Evidence also exists that many of these proven good practice strategies are also cost effective and provide a large opportunity to save lives and money.

    • €1 spent on smoke alarms saves €69
    • €1 spent on bicycle helmets saves €29
    • €1 spent on child safety seats saves €32
    • €1 spent on road safety improvements saves €3
    • €1 spent on prevention counselling by paediatrician saves €10
    • €1 spent on poison control services saves €7

    Source: CDC, 2000

    Political climate is ready to invest in child safety

    Many governmental commitments have been made in the past to support child injury prevention, but never have so many agencies and countries officially and in public signed their responsibility to honour these declarations and resolutions as recently:

    • World Health Assembly and United Nations resolutions on violence and traffic safety
    • Regional Committee Resolution on Children's Environment and Health Action Plan for Europe: priority goal 2 to reduce injuries
    • Regional Committee Resolution on Prevention of injuries in the WHO European Region
    • Regional Committee Resolution on a European strategy for child and adolescent health and development; including injury
    • European Commission draft Communication and Council Recommendation for injuries (to be soon official)

    In addition their has been Ministry of Health focal points for injury established in Member States, a United Nations Secretary General's study on violence against children, a UNICEF regional consultation meeting and commitment to address violence and injuries to children, release of a child safety good practice guide of the European Child Safety Alliance - EuroSafe, development of a global strategy for Child Injury Prevention released this year and a World and European Report on Child Injury Prevention slated for 2008.

    Seize the time for commitment and action

    If we are truly sincere about caring for children then we will all need to meet our commitments and take real action to protect and promote their health and safety, which includes allocation of money, people and policy now against other vested interests. Let us deal with what is killing our children today – injury. The timing is right. Proven injury prevention strategies exist, good case examples have been undertaken, prevention has proven to be cost effective, government commitments have been made to support action, momentum is building throughout Europe and children need our actions to now follow our words.

    More information: Joanne Vincenten at

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