Legal Guide

Homicide, a Leading Cause of Death for US Children, Is On the Rise

A new study found homicide as a major factor in children's death in the United States.

The overall rate has increased by an average of 4.3 percent each year for nearly a decade. The JAMA Pediatrics study found that more black boys were killed than any other group. Firearms were the most common weapon in children's deaths.

Rising Homicide Rates

The researchers discovered 38,362 child homicide victims in the US between 1999 and 2020. The overall homicide rate increased dramatically from 2019 to 2020, with rates rising across several groups. In that period alone, the number of children killed in a homicide rose by 27.7 percent.

The significant increase could be partly explained by the general trend in firearm-related homicides of minors, which increased 47.7 percent between 2019 and 2020.

Disparities Among Demographics

Overall homicide rates grew the largest for boys, jumping 16.1 percent between 2018 and 2020, according to researchers. There was a decline in homicides, however, among girls between 1999 and 2020. From 2018 to 2020, the rate of homicides in Black children increased by 16.6 percent.

Since 2012 and 2014, there has been a continuous rise in homicides involving black and Hispanic children. Between 1999 and 2020, homicide rates among American Indian and Alaska Native children decreased; however, this decline was not statistically significant. They have, however, often had the second-highest homicide rates among racial and ethnic groupings.

The researchers added that these figures might potentially be understated because some victims' racial backgrounds may have been mistakenly classified as Hispanic. Since 1999, the homicide rate among children of Asian, Pacific Islander, and White descent has continuously declined.

Systemic Inequities

Previous research has demonstrated that racial differences may be partially related to racism and the system-based injustices in the areas where many children reside. These children experience high poverty concentrations, few safe play places, and underfunded school systems.

Authorities that oversee these neighborhoods also dehumanize these children out of unconscious bigotry. They consider them to be less innocent and infantile and more responsible for their deeds. In comparison to their White classmates, they receive fewer benefits and childhood protections; as a result, the new study says.

Rural vs. Urban Areas

Since 2011, the homicide rate has also risen in rural areas with few employment options and issues with poverty. The study claims that while the climb is slower than in urban areas, the upward trend has lasted longer. Since 2013, the South's child homicide rate has also been rising.

Deaths by Age Group

The researchers examined age-related fatalities as well. Neglect or abuse, typically committed by parents or other primary caregivers, killed children under ten most frequently. When they were 11 years old or older, most victims were killed in fights while committing a crime or by a friend or acquaintance.

Homicide rates among 16- to 17-year-old Black boys were 18 times higher than white boys and 4.6 times higher than Hispanic boys.

Preventing Homicides in Children

Over the past 20 years, infant and 1 to 5-year-old homicide rates have been progressively falling. According to the researchers, the drop is related to medical initiatives, including the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program and medical reform. This program assists expectant mothers and parents of young children living in areas with greater risks for maternal and child health outcomes.


The new study highlights the urgent need for action to address the rising rates of homicide among children in the United States. The racial disparities and the connection to poverty and systemic inequities call for a comprehensive approach that addresses these underlying issues. “Programs that focus on positive parenting skills and improving maternal and child health outcomes are effective in reducing homicides among infants and young children,” says criminal defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman.

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