Violence against women increases the risk of infant and child mortality: A case-referent study in Nicaragua

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Bulletin of the World Health Organization






Case-control studies; Cause of death; Domestic violence; Infant mortality; Maternal welfare; Nicaragua (source: MesH, NLM); Odds ratio; Pregnancy complications; Risk factors; Sex offenses; Sexual partners; Socioeconomic factors


Objective To investigate the impact of violence against mothers on mortality risks for their offspring before 5 years of age in Nicaragua. Methods From a demographic database covering a random sample of urban and rural households in León, Nicaragua, we identified all live births among women aged 15-49 years. Cases were defined as those who had died before the age of 5 years, between January 1993 and June 1996. For each case, two referents, matched for sex and age at death, were selected from the database. A total of 110 mothers of the cases and 203 mothers of the referents were interviewed using a standard questionnaire covering mothers' experience of physical and sexual violence. The data were analysed for the risk associated with maternal experience of violence of infant and under-5 mortality. Findings A total of 61% of mothers of cases had a lifetime experience of physical and/or sexual violence compared with 37% of mothers of referents, with a significant association being found between such experiences and mortality among their offspring. Other factors associated with higher infant and under-5 mortality were mother's education (no formal education), age (older), and parity (multiparity). Conclusions The results suggest an association between physical and sexual violence against mothers, either before or during pregnancy, and an increased risk of under-5 mortality of their offspring. The type and severity of violence was probably more relevant to the risk than the timing, and violence may impact child health through maternal stress or care-giving behaviours rather than through direct trauma itself.

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