Infanticide is the act or practice of killing newborns or infants. It has been committed or performed in every continent and in every level of culture from the poorest hunters and gatherers to the richest and most advanced classes of people and from the time of our ancestors to modern age (Milner 1998). The act or practice has been so rampant that there is enough evidence on record to show that it has been more the rule than an exception and this evidence reflects that parents themselves kill their infants under distressing and stressful situations. The practice or act was so frequent in England in the 19th century that both the medical and the private communities had to think of ways to control the crime (Milner) described by medical practitioners as savage in a contradiction to human progress.
But infanticide is not a modern creation. It was committed or practiced not only in barbaric periods but also during the Golden Age of Greece and splendor of the Persian Empire (Milner 1998). Poverty and population control have been the most significant motives behind infanticide since prehistoric times. When food supply became short and starvation was feared, restricting or reducing the number of survivors to adult was a measure resorted to. The evolution scientist Charles Darwin believed that infanticide, especially of female infants, was performed to check the proliferation of early populations (Milner). Many see female infanticide as part of the growing prejudice against females by male-dominated societies or cultures, which viewed female infanticide as a means to population check and survival.
This prejudice against women and female infants or sexism was evident as well as prominent in Arabia before the birth of Mohammed in 570 (Milner 1998). Its paternalistic society regarded females as burden to a family's struggle to survive, so that burying a female child was even considered a generous deed. But the Koran prohibited female infanticide as a wrong act (Milner). Judaism and Christianity likewise forbade infanticide and generally, of human life, as contained in Genesis (Maimonides as qtd in Milner), which taught that each life was a gift of God and that only God can take it. The Jews and Christians widely rejected it as a socially impious and illegal act.
Despite the common pose by the three major Western religions against child murder, female infanticide has remained socially acceptable in India and China for centuries (Milner 1998). The number of missing females or females feared to be dead is estimated to be at least 60 million in Asia and more than 100 million worldwide: 30.5 million in China, 22.8 million in India, 3.1 million in Pakistan, 1.6 million in Bangladesh, 1.7 million in West Asia, 600,00 in Egypt and 200,000 in Nepal (Milner).
The burdensome costs in raising a girl and the eventual provision for a dowry in marriage made female infanticide socially acceptable and desirable in India (Milner 1998). China, on the other hand, is generally considered a poor country with a low agriculture output, extremely high infant and child mortality rate because of low food supply and medical care provision. Each Chinese couple needs to raise three sons to insure than at least one will survive into adulthood. Female infants or children have, thus, been viewed by poor Chinese families as mere consumers and an economic disadvantage, often killed right at birth (Milner).
British colonists brought infanticide into the New World and found the Indians practicing it too (Milner 1998). Parents during the puritanical era in colonial America allowed or encouraged parents to be severe in disciplining their children, even bringing in stubborn children to court or downright killing them. There were "stubborn child laws" in Massachusetts in 1646, in Connecticut in 1650, Rhode Island in 1668 and in New Hampshire in 1679. The rigidity of parental attitude over the discipline of children was so startling that the courts founded a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in response to the report of Henry Berg, founder of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. It was commonly believed that the 16-20% children mortality in the 1850s was due to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or SIDS. And 1966 records showed that there were 10,920 murders in the United States and one in every 22 of these was committed by a parent (Milner).
Modern civilization in the 20th century has advanced only in the mode of committing infanticide through medical advancement, which had already made abortion a safe and legal procedure. The lives of newborns or the unborn have been snuffed out by their own parents for seeming reasons of necessity that mostly occurred only in their minds (Milner1998) or of simply being unwanted by these parents. When these parents did not have the suitable means of preventing or terminating pregnancy, they waited until full-term delivery before disposing of the infant. As records show, more than five million pregnancies end in abortion in the Western world alone and this implies that infanticide shall have been resorted to if the abortions are not resorted to (Milner). Right or wrong, a woman or mother's right to choose against a pregnancy has led her to take recourse in infanticide if she cannot have an abortion.
US ranks 11th in the world survey of homicide under the age of one year, the first for ages 1 to 4 and fourth for ages 5-14 (Milner 1998). From 1968 to 1975, infanticide accounted for almost 3.2% of all reported homicides in the U.S. Although trends showed a decrease in overall homicide, infanticide incidence continued to rise. In 1968 alone, more than 600 children were reported to have been killed by their parents and approximately 1.1% of all homicides from 1982 and 1987 were less than a year old (Milner). The younger the child, the chances were greater that a parent committed the act. The older the child, it was likelier that a non-parent was responsible. The mother was also the likelier parent to kill an infant, although more males generally appear to commit murder than females. White mothers were likelier to kill newborns or younger infants, while white fathers were 10% likelier to murder children more than a year old and black fathers 50% likelier than black mothers (Milner).
Those who committed infanticide were mostly young women with a low level of education, unemployment or poorly employed, with some mental or psychological disturbance, such as alcoholism, drug addiction or criminal behavior (Milner 998). Hitting the head, strangulation and drowning were the most common methods used and with the murderer's hands by strangulation or physical punishment (Milner).
Legal attention has been historically focused on women or mothers who kill their infants (LST32FPS 2004). In 1624, Puritan legislators passed an act penalizing with death the concealed death of an illegitimate newborn, except when stillborn. In the 17th century, 40% of women found guilty of murdering their newborns were hanged. A physician and surgeon, William Hunter, thought that concealment was only a suspicion and not a presumption of the crime and, along with others, noted the scientific difficulties in establishing live births for the prosecution (LST32FPS). The laws on evidence, standards of proof, the challenge posed against presumption by the defense and the judges' consideration for state of the mother's mind altered the course of events. The 1624 statute was repealed in 1803 and the evidence of live birth became a requirement (LST32FPS). Infanticide was first introduced as a specific legal offense as well as a defense in England in 1922 when a woman killed her natural newborn child. Infanticide Act of 1938 became a modern form of legislation, whereby it was a partial defense and, therefore, a conviction could be reduced to manslaughter.
Women or mothers in the 19th century resorted to infanticide on grounds of stigma of illegitimacy, poverty, loss of employment, parental threat or separation, and abandonment of the child's father. The law was so severe that the police were constrained from prosecuting and the juries from convicting. The jury and judges oftentimes recommended mercy for a convicted woman or commuted her conviction when the death penalty was imposed (LST32FPS).
Section 6 of the Crimes Act of 1958 defined the offense of infanticide as a willful act or omission that caused the death of an infant less than 12 months old when the mother's mind was imbalanced or disturbed for not having fully recovered from the impact of childbirth or from the effect of lactation (National Right to Life News 1995). The act clearly differentiated infanticide from murder and imposed only a level 6 punishment equivalent to only 5 years imprisonment. Murder was punishable by death. But the act also prevented the jury from later changing its verdict from murder of a child to manslaughter, or from not guilty on the ground of insanity (NRLN).
Before its abolition in 1997, legislation in New South Wales provided for infanticide as both a substantive criminal offense and as a partial defense to murder. It was a partial ground…