Current data show an alarming rise in child homicides in the United States, underscoring a need for efforts to prevent violence to and by youth.
A “precipitous” 27.7-percent rise in the overall child homicide rate occurred from 2019 to 2020, according to Trends in Homicide Rates for US Children Aged 0 to 17 Years, 1999 to 2020, a report published by JAMA Pediatrics in December 2022. The homicide rate increased 27.1 percent among Hispanic children, 24.3 percent among white children, and a disproportionately high 32.6 percent among Black children.
The report—an analysis of longitudinal national data—relied on information from two Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sources: National Center for Health Statistics mortality data from CDC WONDER and data for child homicide victims from the National Violent Death Reporting System.
"OJJDP envisions a world free from violence—for all children. That vision underpins and fuels our three priorities: treating children as children; serving children at home, with their families and in their communities; and opening up opportunities for system-involved youth."
–OJJDP Administrator Liz Ryan
Between 1999 and 2020, more than 38,000 children ages 17 and younger died by homicide in the United States. The child homicide rate decreased by 5.6 percent annually between 2007 and 2013 but increased by 4.3 percent each year since then. Additional findings include:
- Boys were the victims in 69.4 percent of the 38,362 homicides between 1999 and 2020—and in nearly three-quarters of child homicides in 2020 alone.
- The overall homicide rate for boys increased 30.4 percent from 2019 to 2020. Between 2018 and 2020, when the rate for boys rose 16.1 percent overall, the highest increases occurred among boys ages 11 to 15 (26.9 percent) and ages 16 to 17 (19 percent).
- Youth age 17 and younger committed 14 percent of the child homicides that occurred between 2003 and 2019 (among cases in which the perpetrator’s age was known). Young people ages 18 to 24 committed 37.4 percent.
- Youth ages 11 to 17 were more likely to be killed by someone they knew, especially friends and acquaintances. Their deaths were commonly tied to arguments and crime. Youth ages 11 to 17 and infants were most often killed by young people ages 18 to 24; victims ages 1 to 10 were more likely to be killed by adults ages 25 to 44.
Some of the racial and ethnic disparities reflected in child homicide rates have persisted for more than 20 years, JAMA Pediatrics reported. The child homicide rate for Black children is particularly disproportionate. In 2020, nearly 73 million U.S. children were ages 17 and younger. Although only 17 percent (12.4 million) of these children were Black, they were the victims in more than 53 percent of child homicides that year. In contrast, white children were victims in approximately 24 percent of child homicide cases but made up approximately 74 percent (53.9 million) of the child population.
“The death of any child is tragic, and it’s undeniably clear that boys and Black children are particularly at risk for homicide,” says OJJDP Administrator Liz Ryan. “Our country must do better to guard children from early, often violent, deaths. OJJDP will continue to support efforts to keep children safe and promote healthy communities that foster their growth and development.”
In 2020, homicide was the second-highest leading cause of death for youth ages 1 to 17. More than three-quarters of the 1,813 child homicide deaths that year were caused by firearms. Firearms-related child homicides rose nearly 48 percent from 2019 to 2020.
—Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The JAMA Pediatrics report calls child homicide “a preventable public health problem.” It concludes with a call for targeted strategies to protect children from violence—particularly youth ages 6 to 10—and underscores an urgent need to address “firearm violence, racism, and inequities at the root of youth violence.”
Violence begets violence. Decades of research show that youth who perpetrate violence often have been victims themselves, directly or indirectly. OJJDP funds a range of efforts to reduce violence experienced by and associated with youth, from mentoring programs and the National Gang Center to the Juvenile Justice System Reform and Reinvestment Initiative, which supports efforts to reduce reoffending, improve outcomes for youth, and end racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system.
“OJJDP is committed to funding programs to combat these alarming increases in youth homicides, both through traditional efforts with demonstrated effectiveness and new programs with innovative approaches,” Administrator Ryan says. “We are working to give young people the support they need to believe in their potential, make informed choices, and lead fulfilling lives well into adulthood.”