Prevalence and Phenomenology of Neonaticide in Switzerland 1980?2010: A Retrospective Study

By Krüger, Paula | Violence and Victims, April 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Prevalence and Phenomenology of Neonaticide in Switzerland 1980?2010: A Retrospective Study


Krüger, Paula, Violence and Victims


For a child, the likelihood of being murdered is highest during the first year of life, and many such cases are neonaticides. Although several recent studies have examined neonaticide in different countries and cultures, there has been no in-depth analysis of Swiss cases, even though this country has special neonaticide legislation and four "baby hatches" have been opened to prevent such killings. The primary objective of this retrospective study was to analyze the prevalence and phenomenon of neonaticide in Switzerland. Using data from judicial files, 11 cases were identified in 15 German-speaking cantons between 1980 and 2010. The sample included two uncommon cases of nonmaternal neonaticide. The discussion addresses possible prevention strategies.

Keywords: filicide; infanticide; nonmaternal neonaticide; concealment of pregnancy; prevention strategies

In Switzerland, homicide is a rare event. The Swiss Homicide Database (SHD) compiled by Markwalder and Killias (2012) counted 1,313 completed homicides between 1980 and 2004 involving 1,403 offenders and 1,464 victims. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (2011), Switzerland had a homicide rate of 1.1 per 100,000 population in 2004, whereas in Belgium and Scotland, for example, rates were more than twice as high, and Estonia even had a homicide rate of 6.7.

Of the 152 child victims of the SHD cases (age 0-17 years, minors under Swiss law), almost 25% were younger than 1 year old, of whom 22 (61%) were neonaticides, that is, killings of a neonate by its parents within the first 24 hours of life (see, e.g., Resnick, 1970). This equals a victim rate of 1.86 per 100,000 children aged younger than 1 year, and 1.13 per 100,000 live births. In contrast, the victim rate for older children (aged 1 to younger than 16 years) is 0.31 per 100,000 children of that age (Bundesamt für Statistik, 2010, 2011). Hence, the likelihood of a child being murdered is highest during the first year of life, and neonaticides account for many of these cases.

This is consistent with findings in other countries. In England and Wales, for example, 21% of homicide victims younger than 1 year of age were neonaticides (Marks & Kumar, 1993); in Finland, neonaticides even accounted for almost 50% of infant homicide victims (,1 year) between 1970 and 1994 (Putkonen, Weizmann-Henelius, Collander, Santtila, & Eronen, 2007); and in Germany, 37% of the 535 homicides of children younger than 6 years were neonaticides (Höynck, Zähringer, & Behnsen, 2012). Nonetheless, the current prevalence of neonaticide is difficult to determine. Because it is almost always a result of a concealed or denied pregnancy, nobody knows of the child's existence and the body can easily be hidden and disposed of. Moreover, coroners may incorrectly rule on some infanticide cases, seeing them as accidental deaths or cases of sudden infant death syndrome (Hatters Friedman & Resnick, 2009; Spinelli, 2005). Therefore, it can be assumed that many cases go undetected. According to Putkonen, Collander, Weizmann-Henelius, and Eronen (2007), the "true incidence of neonaticide may never be known" (p. 253).

Resnick (1970) distinguished neonaticide, filicide, the killing of a child (.24 hours) by its own parents, from infanticide, defined as the killing of an infant in general. He argued that neonaticide cases differ from other filicides "in the diagnoses, motives, and disposition of the murderer" (Resnick, 1970, p. 1414). Today, several studies not only confirm Resnick's analysis but also show many similarities between cases in different countries and cultures such as Australia, Austria, Brazil, China, Croatia, England, Fiji, Finland, France, Germany, and the United States (e.g., Adinkrah, 2000; Beyer, McAulifee Mack, & Shelton, 2008; Haapasalo & Petäjä, 1999; Höynck et al., 2012; Lee, Li, Kwong, & So, 2006; Marcikic' et al., 2006; Marks & Kumar, 1993; Mendlowicz, Jean-Louis, Gekker, & Hyman Rapaport, 1999; Putkonen et al. …

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