VIENNA (Reuters) - The spread of drug wars means young men in Central America can face a 1 in 50 chance of being murdered before reaching their 31st birthday, a U.N. report showed, describing the trend as close to "crisis point."
Worldwide, 468,000 people were victims of homicide in 2010, with around a third of cases in Africa and a further third in the Americas, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said in its first global report on homicide on Thursday.
"In countries with high murder rates especially involving firearms, such as in Central America, 1 in 50 males aged 20 will be killed before they reach the age of 31 -- several hundred times higher than in some parts of Asia," it said.
Increased competition between drug trafficking groups has helped to push up homicide rates in most Central American countries during the past five years.
"To assert their authority, mark their territory or challenge the authorities, organized criminal groups also use indiscriminate lethal violence," the Vienna-based agency said, describing a vicious circle of murder upon murder.
"Increased violence redraws the boundaries of its own acceptability and in doing so fuels homicide yet further."
The murder rate in Central America has increased sharply since 2007 after a steady decline between 1995 to 2005, the report said.
In some countries in the region, the financial crisis may have played a role in the sudden rise. U.N. researchers are examining the possible link and hope to present their findings soon.
"In selected countries, more murders occurred during the financial crisis of 2008/09, coinciding with declining gross domestic product, a higher consumer price index and more unemployment," the UNODC said.
Globally, men account for around 80 percent of perpetrators and victims and are most likely to be killed on the street. Women are most likely to be murdered in the home by a partner or family member, the report said.
There were some exceptions to the rule -- in Italy, intimate partner and family-related homicides account for more than slayings by mafia groups, while in Asia, "dowry-related deaths still cost many thousands of women's lives every year."
(Reporting by Sylvia Westall; Editing by Marwa Awad)