The increase in weapon-related injuries and deaths among Croatian children in the wake of the Balkan war underscores the need for firearm prevention programs, according to Fogarty-supported research published recently in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.
Dr. Aida Mujkic of the University of Iowa led the study, with support from the Fogarty International Collaborative Training in Injury and Trauma Research Program. Her project is designed to build infrastructure for trauma and injury prevention in Croatia and nearby countries.
The team investigated homicide, suicide and unintentional weapons-related deaths among children from birth to age 19, in Croatia during and after the war, using Croatian government data.
The team found weapons-related deaths in the early postwar period (1996-2000) remained more than twice as high as before the war, and the weapon-related suicide rate remained more than three times that of the prewar period.
The authors note that from after World War II until the beginning fo the recent conflict, most children in Croatia were not exposed to firearms and explosives in their homes or communities. Unlike many countries, personal weapon ownership was not a custom in Croatia and existing firearms were predominantly rifles, used for hunting or kept for display.
During the war, Croatians took weapons--including firearms, grenades and other explosive devices--from military barracks located in Croatia after the Yugoslav army left, to protect themselves and their families. Other weapons were obtained through a growing black market and local manufacturing of new weapons.
Recent Croatian government data identified 371,684 legally owned and registered weapons, primarily firearms. However, some estimate that the circulation of illegal weapons is equal to that of legal ones.
The combination of psychological effects of war on children with an increased presence of weapons may present a particularly important area for prevention, according to the authors.
In conclusion, Dr. Mujkic and colleagues call for programs that focus on the prevention of weapon-related injuries to be integrated into programs that assist countries in rebuilding after political unrest.
Effect of War on Weapon-Related Deaths in Croatian Children and Youth. Mujkic A, Peek-Asa C, Young T, Rodin U. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med.2008;162(2):140-144.