In the taboo-breaking digital age, violence – like so many other seemingly irrevocable proclivities of our human experience – is something we’re made all too aware of. We’re raised to believe that danger lurks around every corner and the paranoia and defensiveness provoked by the endless stream of violent crimes we learn of through the media only further contributes this reality.
Paranoia or no, it’s in the interest of self-preservation to know of the dangers that exist in the world. Of course, luckily for most of us, losing our lives at the hands of another is not a consideration we’re likely to entertain regularly – according to the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC), the world average rate of intentional homicide is 6.9 per 100,000 people. Given that humans are endowed with a moral code, and have the agency and capability to save lives, it might be objectively disturbing that there’s even a world average murder rate to begin with but due to its prevalence, universality and deadliness, homicide must be thought of as an inherent, if deplorable, facet of human societies.
Through analyzing some of the causes and effects of homicide rates in a country by country comparison, the UN’s Global Study on Homicide has provided a very telling survey on the nature of one of humanity’s foulest practices. Globally, intentional homicide was the cause of death for up to half a million people in 2012. Organized crime is the largest contributor to the high murder rates of a given region, and ultimately crime is rooted in the social, economic, and political climates of said region.
Data collected by the UNODC on global homicide rates and trends found that firearms are typically the weapons of choice, accounting for 41% of homicides. Sharp objects follow close behind, being used to execute 24% of homicides. Tragically enough, over half of all homicide victims were under 30 years old. The UNODC’s report also found that while men are the leading victims of homicides globally, women are murdered by their significant others or family members about 70 percent of the time.
While it appears to be a bleak and hopeless issue to solve, lending awareness to and understanding of why homicide rates are higher in some places as opposed to others helps to make alternatives clearer so that greater efforts can be made in addressing this universal problem. While universal, though, some countries are much worse affected by homicides than others. The following list details the 10 most homicidal countries in the world based on the UNODC’s most recent data.
10. Colombia: 30.8 homicides per 100,000 people
In Colombia there are 30.8 homicides per 100,000 people. The country has long endured the powerful presence of drug cartels which have significantly altered the culture and lifestyle of the Colombian people. In a world where kidnappings, illicit drug trade, and other troublesome trades profit from other people’s lives, it isn’t hard to see why murder rates are higher here than in other regions where the penal code is more consistently applied.
9. South Africa: 31.0 homicides per 100,000 people
South Africa experiences a homicide rate of 31.0 per 100,000 people. The country has, for decades, been severely crippled by a poor social and economic infrastructure that invests little into the effectiveness of their criminal justice system. Perhaps more infamously, South Africa is also a country where sexual assault is most prevalent and racial violence is endemic.
8. Saint Kitts and Nevis: 33.6 homicides per 100,000 people
Saint Kitts and Nevis is a country composed of two islands in the West Indies and has a homicide rate of 33.6 per 100,000 people. This number, however, is capricious and not entirely representative – this is a comparatively small nation, and there were 21 murders here in 2013.
7. Swaziland: 33.8 homicides per 100,000 people
Swaziland has a homicide rate of 33.8 per 100,000 people. It is an impoverished country, with up to 60 percent of citizens living below the poverty line. With limited resources and a history of oppression, the people of Swaziland are not provided with an environment where they may grow up to be socially responsible citizens. This fact is most evident when considering the high level of violence most Swazi women experience throughout their lives. According to a survey of some 1,000 Swazi women, two thirds had been beaten or abused and 48.2 percent had experienced some form of sexual violence.
6. Jamaica: 39.3 homicides per 100,000 people
Jamaica has a homicide rate of 39.3 per 100,000 people. The country has, for years, remained in the top ranking for countries with the highest homicide rates. There were a little over 1,600 murders here in 2005 alone. Since then, the numbers have decreased but continue to be much higher than the world average.
5. Guatemala: 39.9 homicides per 100,000 people
The homicide rate in Guatemala is 39.9 per every 100,000 people. Worse still is that the majority of these murders remain unresolved, leaving no solace to grieving families. Doubtless the influence of powerful cartels with close ties to the nation’s government renders this a place where criminal justice is more a fiction than a practical reality. Violent crime is all too common in this country and without the proper mechanisms to counteract the cartel’s killing sprees, the mounting homicide rate shows little signs of slowing down any time soon.
4. El Salvador: 41.2 homicides per 100,000 people
Similar to the situation in Guatemala, El Salvador has a high homicide rate of 41.2 per 100,000 people. Over 2,000 murders were reported in 2012 in El Salvador, a shocking figure for most outsiders but for the people living in this country, violent crime and murder are just as pressing a concern as getting food and shelter. An impoverished country where 34.5 percent of citizens live below the poverty line (many without access to clean water), El Salvador is a world where running the risk of being murdered by rampant gangs is perhaps not even the biggest problem in one’s life.
3. Belize: 44.7 homicides per 100,000 people
With a homicide rate of 44.7 per 100,000 people, Belize certainly makes its social and economic issues apparent. Gang violence continues to plague the country of Belize as the largest contributor to the high homicide rate.
2. Venezuela: 53.7 homicides per 100,000 people
Venezuela has a homicide rate of 53.7 per 100,000 people and according to the Venezuelan Observatory on Violence, in 2011, there were 53 murders happening a day. Gangs are also a strong presence here and extort companies in oil, steel, and construction among other businesses.
1. Honduras : 90.4 homicides per 100,000 people
With the horrifyingly high homicide rate of 90.4 per 100,000 people, Honduras tops the charts. The UNODC found that 30 percent of homicides in the Americas were gang related and the country of Honduras is evidently one of the greater contributors to this percentage. Lamentably, child victims make up a big portion of these growing numbers. Since January of 2014, 409 children under the age of 18 have been murdered in Honduras. The recent wave of Central American migrant children to US borders – a large percentage of whom come from Honduras – seeking refuge from the terrors of their home countries attest to the desperate state the Honduran population currently lives in, one where abandoning home and risking the dangers of migration is, apparently, the safer alternative.