Children from poor urban areas who are exposed to traumatic events such as physical and emotional neglect, violence, and sexual abuse are more likely to experience depression and violence in the teen years, according to a new worldwide study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
The findings, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, also show that boys tend to face even greater exposure to violence and neglect, which makes them more likely to be violent in return.
“This is the first global study to investigate how a cluster of traumatic childhood experiences known as ACEs, or adverse childhood experiences, work together to cause specific health issues in early adolescence with terrible, lifelong consequences,” said Dr. Robert Blum, lead researcher for the Global Early Adolescent Study (GEAS), based in countries across five continents.
The researchers catalogued the ACEs suffered by 1,284 adolescents (ages 10 to 14) in 14 low-income urban settings around the world. They discovered remarkably common experiences with trauma, and very similar impacts, regardless of where the children lived: Vietnam, China, Bolivia, Egypt, India, Kenya, U.K. and the United States.
The study is the first to include an evaluation of how adversity impacts young children in multiple low- and middle-income countries, where the vast majority of the 1.8 billion 10- to 24-year-olds worldwide live; about a quarter of the global population.
Overall, the study found that 46 percent of young adolescents reported experiencing violence, 38 percent suffered emotional neglect and 29 percent experienced physical neglect. Boys were more likely to report physical neglect, sexual abuse and violence victimization.
Also, for both boys and girls, the more adversity they experienced, the more likely they were to engage in violent behaviors, such as bullying, threatening or hitting someone. But the effect of the adversity was more pronounced for boys than girls, with boys 11 times more likely to be engaged in violence, and girls four times more likely to be violent.
Also, the study found that, in general, the cumulative effect of their traumas tended to produce higher levels of depressive symptoms among girls than boys, while boys tended to show more external aggression than girls.
The study is part of the Global Early Adolescent Study, a major collaboration of the World Health Organization and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The project seeks to understand more about the development of gender stereotypes in early adolescence and their impact on adolescent health around the world.
And the new findings support a key conclusion from a major new report being presented at Women Deliver in Vancouver based on a global coalition of adolescent health experts: that the world will never achieve gender equality “by focusing on girls and women alone and excluding boys and men.”
That report, from the Bellagio Working Group on Gender Equality, reflects the assessment of 22 experts from 15 countries. Their analysis, Achieving Gender Equality by 2030: Putting Adolescents at the Center, finds that boys have as equal a part to play as girls in achieving the fifth of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal, which seeks to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” by 2030. The report warns that “we cannot achieve a gender equitable world by ignoring half of its occupants.”