According to the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime's 2019 Global Study on Homicide, knives were the weapon of choice in 97,183 homicides in 2017, a full 22% of the world's total. Knife attacks and stabbing deaths occur all over the globe, from those with high rates of violent crime to the safest countries in the world. That said, the frequency of knife-related violence (which includes not only knives but also other "sharp objects" such as scissors or axes) varies greatly from one region to the next.
In North America, firearm deaths were responsible for roughly 76% of all homicides, with knife-related homicides accounting for less than 20%. However, the numbers are reversed in Europe, where guns account for barely 20% of homicides but knives are used nearly 40% of the time. In fact, the United Nations identified sixteen countries in which knives and sharp instruments were used in more than half of the country's homicides.
Top 16 Countries with the Highest Percentage of Knife-Related Homicides 2013-2016 (approximate percentages):
Note that these data indicate the percentage of homicides that are committed using knives and sharp objects, but are not indicative of the homicide rate or the total number of homicides in a given country. For example, among these countries, the highest homicide rates belong to Guyana, Tanzania, and Grenada, while the lowest rates belong to Qatar, Slovenia, Bahrain, Singapore, and Poland.
Trends in knife-related violence and stabbing deaths
Knife-related violence has been on the rise worldwide since 2014. One of the main factors cited in this growth is the fact that knives are simply more widely available, being both cheaper and much easier to obtain than firearms.
The United Nations' 2017 report also noted that as a rule, countries that had higher homicide rates were usually those in which firearms were more prevalent. By comparison, in countries with lower homicide rates, sharp objects/knives and "other mechanisms" tended to be the predominant methods. The countries with higher rates of stabbing deaths consistently have tighter gun control laws, which forces would-be attackers to resort to knives instead of guns. As a result of this dynamic, countries that have a high number of stabbing deaths tend to have very low gun violence compared to other nations and appear near the bottom of any list of mass shootings per country.
Detailed data on the total number of stabbing deaths per country is difficult to obtain. However, the Global Health Data Exchange maintains a detailed database that includes estimates of death due to "Physical violence by sharp object" that can serve as a general guideline. The full table is displayed further down the page, but the top ten countries rank as follows:
Top 10 Countries with the Most Stabbing Deaths - GHDE 2019 estimates
- Brazil - 9,885
- South Africa - 9,424
- India - 8,931
- Russia - 6,336
- Philippines - 5,491
- Nigeria - 5,099
- Mexico - 4,699
- China - 4,590
- Pakistan - 3,388
- Colombia - 3,131
Knife Violence in Europe
Stabbing deaths and injuries are more common in Europe than in the Americas. Particularly in northern Europe, where levels of knife crimes among young people have increased and made headlines. Deaths by sharp objects are especially noticeable in the 15-19 and 20-24 age groups in Northern and Western European countries. The proportion of knife deaths is about three times greater than firearm deaths in these countries for the 20-24 age group. Between 2002 and 2007, hospital admissions for assault by a knife or sharp object increased by 34%. One high-profile example of homicide by knife in Europe occurred in 2013, when a 13-year-old girl was stabbed to death in the United Kingdom. Her death sparked anti-knife campaigns throughout the U.K.
Knife Violence in Asia
In China, which has strict gun regulations—in fact, it's one of a few countries in which firearms are illegal to own privately in most cases—knife attacks are not uncommon. The number of attacks per year is not clear but attacks are regularly reported in the media, showing that efforts to regulate the purchase of knives or punish the attackers have been unsuccessful in deterring the violence. One of the more notorious knife attacks in Asia occurred in 2014, when a group of eight men and women wielding long-bladed knives attacked patrons at a Kunming train station, injuring more than 140 people and resulting in 29 civilian deaths.
Knife violence in Asia is not exclusive to China. In Japan's 2016 Sagamihara stabbings, a knife-wielding former employee killed 19 people and injured 26 more at a care home for the disabled. Later, in 2019, the Kawasaki stabbings resulted in the deaths of three people (including the stabber) and the injury of 18 more. Knife attacks in South Korea include the Nonhyeon-dong massacre, a 2008 event in which an attacker used a sashimi knife to kill six people and injure seven more.