Child Homicide: Parents Who Kill

Child Homicide: Parents Who Kill

Child Homicide: Parents Who Kill

Child Homicide: Parents Who Kill


From governments that enact population-limiting legislation or commit wholesale neonaticide, to families who purposely allow a weak, infirm, or unfavorably gendered infant to perish rather than expend limited resources, neonaticide, infanticide, and filicide, are practiced on every continent and by every level of cultural complexity.

Taking an objective and diagnostic approach, Child Homicide: Parents Who Kill examines the crime of neonaticide from all angles including historical, cultural, psychological, and legal. Expanding on the first edition, published as Endangered Children: Neonaticide, Infanticide, and Filicide, this edition details child homicide in its many forms such as shaken baby syndrome and Munchausen-by-Proxy as well as the differing circumstances involved in infanticide and filicide. Unlike many books on the subject, it investigates the behavior of the father--deemed responsible in roughly 75 percent of these cases--whether aggressive, complicit, or merely absent, and his ultimate culpability under the law.

The authors study the influence of today's media, and how its lightning-fast dissemination of these shocking and often complicated stories affect public opinion, copycat crime, and legal bias. This book explains legal defenses including insanity, differential post partum diagnosis such as post-partum psychosis, and discusses new policies, more appropriate, therapeutic punishments, and preventive measures.

Child Homicide: Parents Who Kill places this phenomenon in its historical, cultural, and human context and makes us realize that this is not just someone else's nightmare.


Drought, plague, and flood are some of Mother Nature’s means of population control. Tens of thousands can die in any of these, as we have seen in the tsunamis of 2004 and the hurricanes of 2005. Countries and subcultures often control population growth by war, with thousands killed or starved to death on each side. Societies whose economy cannot support a growing population enact population-limiting laws or simply practice wholesale neonaticide when families grow too large or the newborn is the “wrong” gender (i.e., female). All cultures’ moral codes are constituted within the exigencies of survival.

Although infanticide is generally abhorred, a case can be made for its appearance in societies that lack the resources to feed all the children who are born (Posner, 1998). Scheper-Hughes (1989) noted that, in the “impoverished Third World today, women had had to give birth and to nurture children under ecological conditions and social arrangements hostile to child survival, as well as to their own well-being” (p. 14). Under these adverse conditions, women purposely allow weak and infirm infants to die or neglect them as part of their efforts to ensure the well-being and survival of the rest of their families.

Although we are more aware today, early in the 21st century, of instances of child homicide, this crime is not a modern phenomenon. Despite universal reprobation, neonaticide and infanticide have been practiced on every continent and by people on every level of cultural complexity, from hunters and gatherers to those in “higher” civilizations, including our ancestors and contemporaries. “Rather than being the exception, it has been the rule” (Williamson, 1978, p. 61). People are horrified when parents kill their children, and the media focus much attention on such crimes. It is likely that we are more aware of such events today simply because modern communications carry these news items farther and faster than they did even a few decades ago. This may also provoke “copycat” cases as less mentally stable or less capable parents see killing their children as a solution to their problems.

Today, most societies deplore child homicide and many, including ours, debate the right to have an abortion. Population problems, though, continue to exist. In a sense, those who commit child homicide are also practicing population control, but after the fact instead of before conception. These individuals and their acts against their children are our objects of study. Child . . .

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