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Research Measures the Misery of War on Children
From: University Currents
Date: May 3, 2000
By: Marianne Kunnen-Jones
Phone: (513) 556-1826
Photo Illustration By: Colleen Kelley
Archive: Campus News, Research News

Steve Carlton-Ford feels lucky that he and his wife, Cindy, have never had a personal brush with the tragedy of war, nor have any of their three children. But for hundreds of thousands of children around the world, war takes a tragic toll every day and it's their plight that Carlton-Ford, a UC sociologist, felt compelled to focus on in his latest research.

image of carlton-ford

The harsh reality his research has found is that war and other less violent armed conflicts raise the mortality rate of children under the age of 5 by at least 35 percent, when countries that have been at peace go to war. For the United States, that would mean an additional three to four deaths per 1,000 children under the age of 5. If the war took place within U.S. borders, that would mean an additional 60,000 deaths among children under 5.

"We knew 2 million children were said to have been killed by war from 1985 to 1995. But what's even worse about this research is that the overall mortality rate for children for the whole country gets pushed up through other effects of war, not just direct casualties," said Carlton-Ford, who used prediction data analysis similar to that used in medical disease studies for his analysis.

"It's not just soldiers, it's children. War destroys water treatment and distribution systems, agricultural production and health care facilities. War has these consequences that linger, and it really destroys the basis of the society. It is here where the mortality rate of children is affected in ways we don't usually think about," he said.

In the United States, the usual death rate for children younger than 5 is about 10 deaths per 1,000 children (1994 figures). War on our soil would increase that number to about 13-14 deaths per 1000. "In other countries, the rate of death by age 5 can be as high as 320 per 1,000, or about one-third of the children dying by the age of 5. War in such a country would increase that death rate to about 400 per 1,000," Carlton-Ford said.

The sociologist who specializes in child development decided his war and children research was needed when he found that no information of this type was available elsewhere, even at organizations specializing in international children's issues.

He studied 137 countries overall, with information about war from 1946 to 1995. Between 1990- 95, about 30 countries per year were at war. Roughly one-quarter of countries were at war for three or more years recently (1990-1995), while roughly one-quarter of the countries were at war for six or more years previously (1946-1989). Other researchers have found that increasingly, the recent wars are taking civilian life. In WWII, civilians accounted for about half of all war deaths. During the recent wars of the 1990s, civilians accounted for up to 80 percent of all deaths.

One example of war's impact is Iraq, where child mortality had been dropping -- in the 1960s, it was down to 170 per 1,000 and, by 1990, it had dropped even lower, to 50 per 1,000. "But in 1991, after the Gulf War, it jumped back to 130 per 1,000 and it has continued to be elevated," Carlton-Ford said. Other countries that have been scarred by recent war in this way include Rwanda, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Algeria, East Timor, Somalia, Angola and Mozambique, he said.

Carlton-Ford hopes his research will make an impact both by providing solid evidence that will help inform international policy decisions, as well as to move people to think about children's lives while they are reading about wars in the newspapers.

"We may see a little three-inch column in the newspaper about a bombing in Chechnya or Kosovo. I think Americans to a certain extent, unless they have been in war personally, don't realize how devastating it is. I see this as a children's health issue. We forget that those military targets are water pumping stations, medical and food production facilities the kind of support we take for granted to make it through day-to-day life. Until those basic life-supporting infrastructures are replaced, children are going to die."

Carlton-Ford's research will be published in the November 2000 edition of the journal Childhood.