Killing your baby. What could be more depraved? Every year hundreds of women and men commit infanticide-they kill their newborns or let them die. Most infanticides remain undiscovered but every now and then a janitor follows a trail of blood to a tiny body in a trash bin. (Pinker, New York Times) Infanticide, the deliberate killing of infants, was once an economic necessity and exists even today. Many incidents of infanticide indicate that the killer most often mothers or mother figures, but not to exclude fathers, or their influence, were below the level of parental caring. Throughout the ages, oppression has kept women from realizing their full generative potential thus becoming ready infant killers. (Piers, 13) Recognizing the symptoms of this social disease is not enough of a solution. We must be able to decipher which behavioral backgrounds and behaviors will lead certain members of our society to such an atrocity.
In the early 1800's Foundling Hospitals were established to provide care for illegitimate or unwanted infants. There was much debate whether the Foundling Hospitals would help to reduce the rate of infanticide. Studies show there was a high rate of infanticide within the hospitals themselves. (King, Once A Week, Sept. 1865) Most of these institutions prove to be more cruel than direct infanticide. Due to insufficient hospital staff and the inefficiency of adoption procedures, human babies died in misery from sheer neglect. (Piers, 14,82)
There are no available statistics that demonstrate an increase in the incidence of infanticide during the mid-Victorian years. Yet there is no doubt that there was a dramatic increase in public and professional concern about the issue during this time. Newspapers, quarterlies, professional journals and parliamentary papers alike described infanticide as an "growing epidemic" and a "national disgrace". Dramatic cases often preoccupied the media for weeks or even months at a time. Although there was apparent consensus that infanticide was serious and on the rise, Victorians disagreed sharply about both the causes and the potential solutions to the problem. The typical case involved a poor, ignorant, unmarried girl, often domestic servant, who concealed her pregnancy and then killed her infant at birth in order to hide her "shame" and preserve her livelihood. However, as a number of social critics suggested, infanticide was often triggered, not by guilt about illegitimacy, but by financial desperation. Punitive legislation aimed at the poor -particularly the Poor Law of 1834-was blamed for placing a burden on mothers.
The New Poor Law passed Parliament in 1834 proclaiming it's wisdom, foresight, justice, and morality, by adopting the following recommendation of it's Commissioners - " As a further step toward the natural state of things, we recommend that the mother of an illegitimate child, born after the passing of the Act, be required to support it, and that any relief occasioned by the wants of the child be considered relief afforded to the parent." By this clause the father was relieved of all responsibility of caring or providing for his child. Although unwed mothers were clearly in the most vulnerable position, married and widowed mothers often suffered as well - a fact noted by Charles Dickens in The Chimes. (King, , Once a Week, Sept. 1865)
The furor of infanticide was due in part to the fact that crime went unpunished. Juries were extremely reluctant to bring in murder convictions against women accused of infanticide. Whatever their reasons, juries often chose to overlook evidence either by convicting the defendant on the charge of "concealment of death" or acquittal. In many cases the safer course was to murder a child. If you were to beat or starve a child you may get a long imprisonment. Infanticide was a better investment than ill-treatment as many cases show that if you kill an infant outright you are sure to be acquitted and for ill- treatment you would possibly be sentenced to a year or two of hard labor. (The Saturday Review, Aug 9, 1865)
In the late 1800's there are reports that newborn corpses have been found in sewer systems. This way of disposing of killed babies leads us to guess that they were born to young, ignorant mothers. The babies could have been placed on a doorstep or through regular welfare channels, and the babies would have survived. Since the mothers did not make these choices, we can surmise that they were unfeeling toward the children they had borne. It was these types of strange behaviors that in earlier centuries led to massive infanticides. Circumstances that lead parents to kill an infant become clearer as one observes urban poverty. The seventh or eighth child in a poor family was the one that was doomed to die. The means of killing were starvation and neglect. (Piers, 16)
Infanticide by neglect, is committed by hospital authorities in large cities in the United States. Mothers who abandon their babies on hospital steps assume their babies will survive but that is not always the case. The shortage of funds for child welfare, the poverty of many communities, understaffed hospitals- these conditions exist the world over, in times of war and peace. It has been sadly documented, incidental infanticide by neglect is inevitable. (Piers, 17)
Killing a baby is an immoral act, and we often express our outrage by calling it a sickness. Normal human motives are not always moral and infanticide does not have to be a product of dysfunctional upbringing. We can try to understand what would lead a mother to kill her newborn. Remembering that, to understand is not necessarily to forgive. (Pinker, New York Times)
Among Yemenites a premarital pregnancy is viewed as a horrible, shameful tragedy for the entire family. As soon as the baby was born, the mother was handed a knife and was ordered to kill the child. (Piers, 17) To date, detailed analysis of the causes of infanticide have been based largely on data from collections of case reports. This data may not accurately reflect the full range of causes. From what is known, the causes of death seem to vary accordingly to the age of the infant and the parents' psychological state, age, economic status, race, culture and beliefs . Infants killed immediately after birth are often the product of unwanted and disguised pregnancies. Nearly three-quarters of the infants who died on the first day life had not been born in a hospital. (Wissow, 1239) Children die because adults neglect, abuse, or kill them at birth. Outrage cannot prevent the killing or near killing of children. The understanding of infanticide, whether by neglect or abuse is still with us. (Piers, 14)
Infanticide was an uncommon word in the late 20th century but an examination of birth and death certificates from the 1980's and 1990's shows it occurred almost once a day in America. Most of the death certificates did not disclose the identity of the murderer. The study of infants to a year old shows that five percent of the babies were killed before they were a day old, and half died before they had reached four months of age. (Editorial, Post Intellingencer, Nov 2, 1998)
How could they do it? Nothing melts the heart like a helpless baby. Even a biologist's cold calculations tell us that an offspring that carries our genes is the whole point of our existence. (Pinker, New York Times, Nov. 2, 1997) Infanticide, many think could be only a product of pathology. The psychiatrists uncover childhood trauma. The defense lawyers argue temporary psychosis. Others blame a throwaway society, permissive sex education, or lack of, rock lyrics, abortionists and absent role models. It is difficult to maintain that infanticide is an illness when we learn that is has been practiced and accepted in most cultures throughout history. Infanticidal parents do not commonly show signs of psychopathology. A 1970 study of statistics of child killing, a psychiatrist, Phillip Resnick, found that mothers who kill their older children are often psychotic, depressed or suicidal, but mothers who kill their newborns are usually not. It was this difference that led Resnick to argue that the category infanticide be split into neonauticide, the killing of a baby on the day of it's birth, and filicide, the killing of a child older than one day. (Wissow, 1241)
What is the mental state of a teen-age mother who has kept her pregnancy a secret? She is immature enough to have hoped that their pregnancy would go away by itself, her maternal feelings have been set at zero and she suddenly realizes she is in big trouble. Being young and single are two bad omens for successful motherhood, and the girl that conceals her pregnancy and procrastinates over the consequences will soon be disquieted by a third omen - she will give birth in circumstances that are particularly unpromising for a human mother: alone. (Pinker, New York Times)
Physician- induced infanticides have been around as long as the medical profession itself. There will always be a doctor willing to set aside his medical ethics by killing infants either for profit or a jaded set of ethics.. Some strangle babies with their bare hands. Some use the placenta (afterbirth) to smother children. Others kill the infant by neglect after the child is born, the infant is placed in a room by herself until the infant dies of starvation and lack of attention. Doctors willing to practice this type of "death-icine" are on the decline, but we are becoming more aware as our newspapers and evening news reveal. (Hovde, 14)
The facts and figures of infanticide differ from country to country based on their laws, religions, and education on infanticide. The rising numbers of infanticide in Hungary have forced the government to increase the penalty to mandatory imprisonment of 2-8 years. Hospitals are putting incubators outside their doors as an option for mothers not wanting their babies. (Glass, 570) Officially 25 to 30 babies are murdered in Hungary every year. The discovery of body parts of a 3 week old baby in the sewer system in Eastern Hungary indicates that estimates of 250-300 cases go undiscovered (Piers, 27) In Budapest a full "morning-after" contraceptive service using drugs donated by drug companies has opened as findings have shown that women between the ages of 14-18 years are most affected. Free contraceptives were discontinued in 1995. (Glass, 572) In Leeds, U.K medical reports show that 81 children who were judged by the courts to have been killed, usually from smothering, by a parent, almost always the mother. Forty- two of the children were initially certified as having died from sudden death syndrome (SIDS). Media reports insinuate that there may be many more instances where sudden infant death was due not to SIDS but to infanticide. There were 1515 deaths in children less than 1 year old in the U.K in 1989. (Meadow, 161)
There are more infants unnaturally sacrificed in China and the moral guilt of the Chinese parents is immensely less than similar offenders in Christian countries. Infanticide has been spoken as one of the great social plagues of the Chinese Empire. Poverty has a great deal to do with the prevalence of infanticide. They do not mind boys- but a girl is a useless mouth to fill. For certain reasons peculiar to China, there is a great desire to have male offspring. Infanticide remains an offense of which the law does not recognize. The numbers of infanticides in China exceeds the number of infanticides in Europe in proportion to the population. (Coleridge, The Month and Catholic Review)
Chinese law only punishes infanticide indirectly- that is, the penalties which are applied to it are penalties against the parents who chastise their children or grandchildren so severely as the take away their life. The penalties are sixty stripes and exile from the province for a year. (Coleridge, The Month and Catholic Review). An alteration was made at the end of the last century putting infanticide on a level with homicide but the law was too severe to be enforced. A man or woman must kill three children in order to be liable to the penalty of sixty stripes. (Hovde, Columbian, B13)
Several infant deaths in Quebec in 1997 were erroneously attributed to natural causes. A team of experts that looked into the deaths of more than 400 children under five years of age and found that many of the deaths may have been infanticide. At least two deaths near the provincial capital which were attributed to natural or undetermined causes were actually infanticide. In both cases medical authorities and the coroner classified the cause of death as crib death, a syndrome that only affects small infants. Further study revealed their parents have in fact suffocated the children. A study which was conducted in three Quebec City hospitals between 1985 and 1994 showed that cases of infanticide were twice as high as coroner reports indicated. (Internet, CFRA News Talk Radio)
Our compassion hinges on the child, not just on the mother. Killers of older children, no matter how desperate, evoke little mercy. Susan Smith, the South Carolina woman who sent her two sons, 14 months and 3 years old, to watery deaths, is in jail, unmourned, serving a life sentence. The leniency shown to fanticidal mothers forces us to think the unthinkable and ask if we, like many societies and like the mothers themselves, are not completely sure whether a neonate is a full person. (Internet, "Child Deaths Blamed on Infanticide".)
Most observers sense the desperation that drives a parent to infanticide. Prosecutors sometimes don't prosecute; juries rarely convict; and those found guilty almost never go to jail. Barbara Kerwin, a forensic psychologist, reports that in nearly 300 cases of women charged with infanticide in the United States and Britain, no woman spent more than a night in jail. In Europe, the laws of several countries prescribed less severe penalties for infanticide than for adult homicides. (Pinker, New York Times)
Based on data Murray Levine, Ph.D. a professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo and his graduate students obtained though the PsycLIT, Medline and SUNY at Buffalo databases, along with previous research, news articles and court testimony, the report concluded that:
+ Some 18,000 children annually are permanently disabled and another 142,000 are seriously injured from severe abuse.
+ Enraged or extremely stressed fathers and other male caretakers are the perpetrators in most abuse fatalities, although most parenting and child abuse prevention programs target women. (Women are most often held responsible for child deaths from bathtub drowning, fires started by unsupervised children, dehydration and starvation.)
+ Domestic violence is strongly connected to child abuse fatalities. Child abuse or neglect occurs in about half homes where adult violence also occurs.
Psychologists can play a key role in combating the problem because they are at the forefront of building preventive programs and treatment interventions for abuse victims and their families, Levine said. (Internet, "The Infanticide/Abortion Link.")
Is abortion a form of infanticide? Infanticide is even more horrifying than abortion because everyone recognizes the children who are being murdered as being alive. Most civilized people are shocked when they learn of a child who is murdered by a parent. Despite the cries of protest, infanticide continues to flourish. Infanticide flourishes because abortion flourishes. The attitudes required for abortion are the same as those for infanticide. If you accept abortion, it is not a large moral leap to begin accepting infanticide. The only true way to stop infanticide and abortion is to work on solving the problems, which a parent faces that forces them to pursue the death of their own child. (Hovde, 13 ) Abortion is infanticide in another form. Whether the child is killed while still in the womb or after she has emerged from the womb is morally irrelevant. It is the same human life before and after. (Schwarz, 13) There is a theory that defends abortion on the grounds that the child in the womb, though undoubtedly a human being, is not a person and that it is only a killing of a person that is seriously wrong. Many human beings are persons, normal adult human beings and it is wrong to kill them because they are persons. Small infants, such as newborn babies or babies in the womb are not (according to this theory) persons, so it is not wrong to kill them. A small child has no right to life as a normal adult does, and if the child is unwanted, he may be killed. (Schwarz, Loyola Press)
It seems obvious that we need a clear boundary to confer personhood on a human being and grant it a right to life. Otherwise, we approach a slippery slope that ends in the disposal of inconvenient people or in grotesque deliberations on the value of individual lives. But the endless abortion debate shows how hard it is to locate the boundary. Anti-abortionists draw the line at conception, but that implies we should shed tears every time an invisible conceptus fails to implant in the uterus-and, to carry the argument to its logical conclusion, that we should prosecute for murder anyone who uses an IUD. Those in favor of abortion draw the line at viability, but viability is a fuzzy gradient that depends on how great a risk of an impaired child the parents are willing to tolerate. The only thing both sides agree on is that the line must be drawn at some point before birth. (Pinker, New York Times)
Should infants be killed because they have a severe physical, emotional or intellectual handicap? To many this would sound discriminatory toward the handicapped. How often are abortions done because the fetus has a physical or mental handicap? These abortions are often seen as justified because of the "horrible life" the child will supposedly have. It isn't any wonder that people suggest we should dispose of the infants when born. After all, what if the handicap was not detected prior to birth? Shouldn't the woman have the same "right to choose" to end the child's life after birth, just as a woman who detected the abnormality while in the womb had the right to choose the end the unborn's life while in the womb? ( Internet. The Infanticide/ Abortion Link) U. S Representative John Hosteltler states: "Partial - birth abortion is nothing more than infanticide, and among the cruelest of human arts." To let this procedure continue diminishes the value of human life and allows the unspeakable to be committed against the most innocent among us. We cannot allow this to continue even one more day!" What are called abortions, such as saline injections, D & C and D & E are carried out with different instruments. In D & C the knife has to be carefully inserted into the womb because the baby is hidden away and is not protruding. It is easier to do a late D & C because the baby is protruding in the mothers' abdomen. The partial - birth abortion procedure (also known as the "D & C" or "Dilation and Extraction abortion) is a relatively recent phenomenon and is the most sickening form of infanticide devised by man. The D & X procedure they say, is incredibly painful for the infant. Abortionists acknowledge that the procedure is frequently preformed on healthy mothers with healthy babies. The American Medical Association supports a ban on this procedure. (Jahr, July 23, 1998)
Today in 17 states, partial-birth abortion is a criminal act. Even in Roe vs. Wade, which struck down the Texas abortion statutes, that part of the law that made Arlington, Va., Catholic Herald, the Supreme Court "did not address the constitutionality of killing a child that was partially delivered." Article 1195 of the Texas Penal Code States "Destroying an unborn child whoever shall during the parturition of the mother destroy the vitality of life in a child in a state of being born and before actual birth which child would otherwise have been born alive, shall be confined in the penitentiary for life or for not less than five years." That law stands. The GOP voted to continue funding candidates who support a form of killing that is punishable by life in prison in Texas and jail time in 17 states. (Buchanan, Jan 19, 1998)
Ironically, medical advancement and the discoveries of the actual human qualities of the fetus may actually be used to justify infanticide if abortion is kept legal. Years ago, before sonograms, before people like Lenart Nilsson took stunning photos of an unborn child. It was much easier to define the fetus as a "blob of cells" and not equate any humanness with the unborn. Thus, it was easier to justify abortion because many believed that what was inside the womb was nothing but "a blob" and not really human. However, medical technology has given us the opportunity to actually see the unborn, to save premature babies earlier and earlier, and to even preform fetal surgery. It is increasingly difficult to say that the unborn is "just a blob of cells" when presented with current medical evidence that fetus is indeed human. Thus, the current common argument for legalized abortion is that the fetus may be human, but it is not "full human" or a "person"" or a human with the same rights as you and I. Once we start acknowledging a class system for humans - a class system which determines at what developmental level a human has the "full rights" of a person - what is to keep us from applying the same class system to born, as well as unborn children? We could before say that the unborn was not human, and since everyone considered a newborn human, it was easy to keep the abortion mentality from creeping up towards infanticide. But now that we acknowledge that it is justifiable to terminate the life of a certain class of humans (the unborn) what is to keep us from extending that class to day- old infants. (Internet, " Parents Killing Kids; A Nation's Shame.")
One usually thinks of infanticide as the killing of a born child. The killing of a preborn child is not very different. The child is simply at an earlier stage of development. If it is wrong to kill him later (post-birth infanticide) it is equally wrong earlier (prebirth infanticide). Infanticide (after birth) and abortion (before birth) is illustrated in the Kamchadal practice " The Kamchadal of northern Siberia have practitioners who specialize in killing a fetus through the wall of the abdomen, during the last stages of pregnancy. This may result in a stillbirth or in the birth of an injured but living infant that is killed forthwith". (Schwarz, 12)
Legal abortion was supposed to make "every child a wanted child." So far, this questionable goal has not been met whatsoever, since infanticide seems to be on the rise. For those who wonder how we can stop infanticide, I have an answer- "Stop violence in the womb and perhaps we will have less violence outside the womb as well." (Internet- The Infanticide/ Abortion Link)
It seems likely, however, that the current figures on infanticide are underestimated. According to the National Incidence Study on child abuse and neglect in the United States in 1986, about 6 of every 1,000 children under the age of 2 were seriously injured or abused. The rates of infant homicide had increased from the earlier years of the study to the later years (1988 through 1991. (Wissow, 1240)
Infant homicide rates increased to 8.9 percent per 100,000 births in the period from 1988 to 1991 up from 7.2 per 100,000 births in the period from 1983 to 1987, according to researchers at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (Editorial, Seattle Post Intelligencer, Nov 2, 1998)
Infanticide- the horror of the crime is matched only by the horror of one of it's common causes- the waking nightmare called postpartum psychosis. Ranging from mild fits of fatigue and crying to genuine depression, the ailment usually passes in two to ten days. It is a trying ordeal but scarcely a cause of murder. Postpartum psychosis is a far more extreme disorder, and very rare, occurring in only one to three of every 1,000 mothers. Of those affected, only six in 1,000 commit suicide or kill their babies. The cause is uncertain. Some researchers believe a catastrophic distortion of the hormones along with fatigue which clouds judgement may be responsible. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the standard reference, and afflicted woman suffers delusions that often include a belief that her baby "is possessed by the devil, has special powers or is destined for a terrible fate." The disorder has been blamed for some two dozen babies' deaths in the United States over the last twenty years. Postpartum psychosis is not the only disorder that can lead to infanticide. Women who already suffered from bipolar (manic-depressive) disorder or schizophrenia before delivering their babies have also committed the crime. (Tobin, Detroit News)
In 1939, the Infanticide Act was introduced into British Parliament recognizing post-natal mood disorders. It states that no woman can be found guilty of murdering her own child within twelve months of birth. (Dalton, 1989) Until the 1960's, all forms of post-natal mood disorder were classified as a single condition. Although the medical profession has not agreed upon definitions, diagnosis and treatment, it is clear from research available today that this is not an imagined condition. There are three types of post-natal mood disorders: Baby or maternity blues, post-natal depression, and puerperal or post-natal psychosis. (Gilbert, 1992)
Baby or maternity blues arises soon after birth and disappears quickly (Dalton, 1989). Post-natal depression affects 10-15% of mothers and usually arises after the third week but sometimes months after and can last for months or even years. Puerperal psychosis affects .01-.02% of mothers. These cases require immediate inpatient treatment. Post-natal depression is a very real illness, which can be helped if recognized early and treated. (Dalton, 1989)
The recent infanticides still seem puzzling. There are middle - class girls whose babies would have been kept from starvation by the girls parents or by thousands of adoptive couples. In hunter - gatherer societies, births are virtually always assisted because human anatomy makes birth (especially the first one) long and difficult. Older women act as midwives and help decide whether the infant should live. Wenda Trevothan, an anthropologist and trained midwife, has studied pelvises of human fossils and concluded that childbirth has been physically tortuous, even more so for a young mother and probably assisted for millions of years. Most newborns have waves of cooing and congratulating; those signals are absent from a secret birth in a motel room or bathroom stall. (Pinker, New York Times)
Increased efforts are needed to identify adolescents who have hidden their pregnancies in order to provide them with prenatal care. The American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines for counseling adolescents stress that the menstrual or sexual history, or questions about symptoms, are unreliable ways of detecting pregnancy. Unwanted and undisclosed pregnancies may be a marker of battering. In one national study, 70 % of mothers (of all ages) who reported having been victims of violence during pregnancy said that their pregnancy had been unwanted. (Wissow, 1240) Mothers of all ages would benefit from increased attention to their emotional care during prenatal and postnatal care. Before delivery, this responsibility might fall most appropriately on obstetricians or family physicians, but afterward, clinicians providing care for children probably have the most with mothers. The laws that disallows the health team to disclose a teen pregnancy to the parents of a teen may be protecting her civil rights, but in truth can be promoting a hidden pregnancy and in the end an infanticide. Health care workers have had their hands tied for them. There is general agreement that such clinicians need to be more aware of the functioning of key family members. The limited studies preformed to date suggest that pediatricians are relatively unaware of emotional problems in the mothers of their patients. It is not clear at this point which approaches- for example, screening mothers for emotional problems or improving the interviewing skills of clinicians-would increase clinicians' awareness, or how they could best intervene once they were aware of a parent's distress. We know enough, however, to recommend routine inquiry about the major risk factors for postpartum depression: prior depression, inadequate social support, and ambivalence about the pregnancy, age, support system, culture and beliefs. (Resnick, 1416) Several solutions:
n Public health nurses counseling pregnant teens at home before and after delivery, or experienced mothers volunteering to be role models for first- time moms.
n Obstetricians and other health- care providers paying more attention to signs of alcohol and drug abuse, or clinical depression, in their patients.
n Parenting classes for caregivers, including the fathers, many of whom are young men who mature less quickly and are more prone to cause serious physical injury to a baby.
n Help keep the teenage pregnancy rate headed downward, contraceptives should be made available at no cost in public health clinics on and off high school campuses.
n Teen parent programs are available in most communities and teaches young mothers how to take care of both her unborn child and newborn child. The program also will a