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Crime in Developing Countries

Crime Rates And Trends In Developing Countries

Comparisons based on official homicide rates and ICVS data reveal quite similar regional patterns. Latin America and Africa lead the world in crime rates. Western Europe and the New World have relatively low crime rates, but not always the lowest, for those are also to be found—depending on the specific comparison—in the Arab or Asian countries. For common crimes (property crimes that affect households, and thefts, assaults, and sexual incidents involving individuals), the ICVS finds that the rate of victimization over the previous five years in urban areas is lowest in Asia (excluding Japan; 45.0%), highest in Latin America (76.6%) and Africa (74.0%), while both the New World and Western Europe are close to the mean (van Dijk). When broken down by type of victimization, this pattern is largely repeated, except for car related crimes (car theft, theft from cars, car vandalism), which are considerably more frequent in the New World and Western Europe, most probably reflecting the much larger number of cars in those countries.

Officially recorded homicide rates show a similar pattern. Rates are highest in Latin America and Africa, lower in North America, eastern Europe, and South Asia, and lowest in the Arab states and western Europe. However, the magnitude of these differences is greater than in the victimization data: the median homicide rate in Latin American countries is nearly nine times that of the Arab countries. White collar crime, as measured by a question in the 1996 ICVS about the solicitation of bribes by government officials during the previous year, was most prevalent in Latin America (21.3%), Africa (18.8%), and Asia (14.6%), moderately high in central and eastern Europe (10.7%), and lowest in western Europe and the New World (1% or less).

There is almost no comparative analysis of trends in crime rates in the developed and developing countries. However, van Dijk reports that victimization rates have declined in the most industrialized countries, while there is no evidence of a similar decline in other parts of the world. The relative recency of the ICVS means that this finding should be treated as provisional.

What these results suggest is that a simple division of the world into developed and developing countries, at least based on cross-sectional crime rates, is problematic. The fact that regions of the developing world tend to lie at both extremes on measures of prevalence indicates that differences between developing countries are greater than the differences between the developing and developed worlds. The long-standing but frequently ignored caution from criminologists to avoid oversimplified generalizations about regional crime patterns has not lost its relevance. Moreover, this finding also implies that attempts to link development and crime rates are likely to face uncooperative data.

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