IMPORTANT:This page has used Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia in either a refactored, modified, abridged, expanded, built on or 'straight from' text content! (view authors)

Infanticide is the homicide of an infant; it can describe what might amount to a cultural act or an offence defined by the victim's age. Often it is the mother who commits the act, but criminology recognizes various forms of non-maternal child murder. In many past societies, certain forms of infanticide were considered permissible. Female infanticide is more common than the killing of male offspring due to sex-selective infanticide.

This article addresses the practice of infanticide within multiple cultural and historical contexts.

Infanticide throughout history and pre-history

The practice of infanticide has taken many forms. Child sacrifice to supernatural figures or forces, such as the one practiced in ancient Carthage, may be only the most notorious example in the ancient world. Regardless of the cause, throughout history infanticide has been common. Anthropologist Laila Williamson notes that "Infanticide has been practiced on every continent and by people on every level of cultural complexity, from hunter gatherers to high civilizations, including our own ancestors. Rather than being an exception, then, it has been the rule."[1]

A frequent method of infanticide in ancient Europe and Asia was simply to abandon the infant, leaving it to die by exposure (i.e. hypothermia, hunger, thirst, or animal attack).[2][3] Infant abandonment still occurs in modern societies.[4]

In at least one island in Oceania, infanticide was carried out until the 20th century by suffocating the infant,[5] while in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica and in the Inca Empire it was carried out by sacrifice (see below).

Paleolithic and Neolithic

Many Neolithic groups routinely resorted to infanticide in order to control their numbers so that their lands could support them. Joseph Birdsell believed that infanticide rates in prehistoric times were between 15% and 50% of the total number of births,[6] while Laila Williamson estimated a lower rate ranging from 15% to 20%.[1] Both anthropologists believed that these high rates of infanticide persisted until the development of agriculture during the Neolithic Revolution.[7] Comparative anthropologists have calculated that 50% of female newborn babies were killed by their parents during the Paleolithic era.[8] Decapitated skeletons of hominid children have been found with evidence of cannibalism.[9] The children were not necessarily actively killed, but neglect and intentional malnourishment may also have occurred, as proposed by Vicente Lull as an explanation for an apparent surplus of men and the below average height of women in prehistoric Menorca.[10]

In ancient history

In the New World

Archaeologists have uncovered physical evidence of child sacrifice at several locations.[7] Some of the best attested examples are the diverse rites which were part of the religious practices in Mesoamerica and the Inca Empire.[11][12][13]

In the Old World

Three thousand bones of young children, with evidence of sacrificial rituals, have been found in Sardinia. Infants were offered to the Babylonian goddess Ishtar. Pelasgians offered a sacrifice of every tenth child during difficult times (as in the verb "to decimate" the population). Syrians sacrificed children to Jupiter and Juno. Many remains of children have been found in Gezer excavations with signs of sacrifice. Child skeletons with the marks of sacrifice have been found also in Egypt dating 950-720 BC. In Carthage "[child] sacrifice in the ancient world reached its infamous zenith."[7] Besides the Carthaginians, other Phoenicians, and the Canaanites, Moabites and Sepharvites offered their first-born as a sacrifice to their gods.

Ancient Egypt

In Egyptian households, at all social levels, children of both sexes were valued and there is no evidence of infanticide.[14] The religion of the Ancient Egyptians forbade infanticide and during the Greco-Roman period they rescued abandoned babies from manure heaps, a common method of infanticide by Greeks or Romans, and were allowed to either adopt them as foundlings or raise them as slaves, often giving them names such as "copro -" to memorialise their rescue.[15] Strabo considered it a peculiarity of the Egyptians that every child must be reared.[16] Diodorus indicates infanticide was a punishable offence.[17] Egypt was heavily dependent on the annual flooding of the Nile to irrigate the land and in years of low inundation severe famine could occur with breakdowns in social order resulting, notably between 930-1070 AD and 1180-1350 AD. Instances of cannibalism are recorded during these periods but it is unknown if this happened during the pharaonic era of Ancient Egypt.[18] Beatrix Midant-Reynes describes human sacrifice as having occurred at Abydos in the early dynastic period (c. 3150-2850 BC),[19] while Jan Assmann asserts there is no clear evidence of human sacrifice ever happening in Ancient Egypt.[20]


Carthaginians, descendants of the Phoenicians, sacrificed infants to their gods.[21] Charred bones of hundreds of infants have been found in Carthaginian archaeological sites. One such area harbored as many as 20,000 burial urns.[21] It is estimated that child sacrifice was practiced for centuries in the region. Plutarch (ca. 46–120 AD) mentions the practice, as do Tertullian, Orosius, Diodorus Siculus and Philo. The Hebrew Bible also mentions what appears to be child sacrifice practiced at a place called the Tophet (from the Hebrew taph or toph, to burn) by the Canaanites. Writing in the 3rd century BC, Kleitarchos, one of the historians of Alexander the Great, described that the infants rolled into the flaming pit. Diodorus Siculus wrote that babies were roasted to death inside the burning pit of the god Baal Hamon, a bronze statue.[22][23]

Greece and Rome
File:Eugène Ferdinand Victor Delacroix 031.jpg

Medea killing her sons, by Eugène Ferdinand Victor Delacroix (1862).

The historical Greeks considered the practice of adult and child sacrifice barbarous.[24] However, exposure of newborns was widely practiced in ancient Greece. In Greece the decision to expose a child was typically the father's, although in Sparta the decision was made by a group of elders.[25] Exposure was the preferred method of disposal, as that act in itself was not murder; moreover, the exposed child technically had a chance of being rescued by the gods or any passersby.[26] This very situation was a recurring motif in Greek mythology.[27] To notify the neighbors of a birth of a child, a woolen strip was hung over the front door- this indicated a female baby. An olive branch indicated a boy had been born. Families did not always keep their new child. After a woman had a baby, she would show it to her husband. If the husband accepted it, it would live, but if he refused it, it would die. Babies would often be rejected if they were illegitimate, unhealthy or deformed, the wrong sex (female for example), or too great a burden on the family. These babies would not be directly killed, but put in a clay pot or jar and deserted outside the front door or on the roadway. In ancient Greek religion, this practice took the responsibility away from the parents because the child would die of natural causes, for example hunger, asphyxiation or exposure to the elements.

The practice was prevalent in ancient Rome, as well. Philo was the first philosopher to speak out against it.[28] A letter from a Roman citizen to his wife, dating from 1 BC, demonstrates the casual nature with which infanticide was often viewed:

"I am still in Alexandria. ... I beg and plead with you to take care of our little child, and as soon as we receive wages, I will send them to you. In the meantime, if (good fortune to you!) you give birth, if it is a boy, let it live; if it is a girl, expose it."[29][30]

In some periods of Roman history it was traditional for a newborn to be brought to the pater familias, the family patriarch, who would then decide whether the child was to be kept and raised, or left to death by exposure. The Twelve Tables of Roman law obliged him to put to death a child that was visibly deformed. Infanticide became a capital offense in Roman law in 374 AD, but offenders were rarely if ever prosecuted.[31]

According to mythological legend, Romulus and Remus, twin infant sons of the war god, Mars, survived near-infanticide after being tossed into the Tiber River. According to the mythology, they were raised by wolves and later founded the city of Rome.


Although there are several instances in the Bible of ancient Hebrews sacrificing their children to heathen gods, against explicit prohibitions in the Torah (e.g., Deuteronomy 12:30-31, 18:10; 2 Kings 16:3 & 17:17, 30-31 & 21:6 & 23:4, 10; Jeremiah 7:31-32 & 19:5 & 32:35; Ezekiel 16: 20-21, 36; Judges 11:31), Judaism prohibits infanticide.

Roman historians wrote about the ideas and customs of other peoples, which often diverged from their own. Tacitus recorded that the Jews "regard it as a crime to kill any late-born children."[32] Josephus, whose works give an important insight into 1st-century Judaism, wrote that God "forbids women to cause abortion of what is begotten, or to destroy it afterward."[33]

The Mosaic laws expressly forbade the Jews to offer sacrifices to Moloch. "You shall not give any of your children to devote them by fire to Moloch, and so profane the name of your God" (Lev. 18:21).[34]

Years later, the practice existed among the Jews as reported by the prophet, Jeremiah, whose writings date to the period around 629 - 585 BC.

Jeremiah 32:35:

And they built the high places of the Ba‘al, which are in the valley of Ben-hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire to Molech; which I did not command them, nor did it come into my mind that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.

The Babylonian Talmud explains that the only way one would be penalized by a Bet Din for transgressing the explicit warning against sacrificing one's children to Moloch is by quote: Sanhedrin 64a : "He who gives of his seed to Molech incurs no punishment unless he delivers it to Molech and causes it to pass through the fire. If he gave it to Molech but did not cause it to pass through the fire, or the reverse, he incurs no penalty, unless he does both."[35]

Pagan European tribes

In his book Germania, Tacitus wrote that the ancient Germanic tribes enforced a similar prohibition. He found such mores remarkable and commented: "[The Germani] hold it shameful to kill any unwanted child." Modern scholarship differs. John Boswell believed that in ancient Germanic tribes unwanted children were exposed, usually in the forest.[36] "It was the custom of the [Teutonic] pagans, that if they wanted to kill a son or daughter, they would be killed before they had been given any food."[36] Usually children born out of wedlock were disposed that way.

In his highly influential Pre-historic Times, John Lubbock described burnt bones indicating the practice of child sacrifice in pagan Britain.[37]

The last canto, Marjatan poika (Son of Marjatta), of Finnish national epic Kalevala describes an assumed infanticide. Väinämöinen orders the infant bastard son of Marjatta to be drowned in marsh.

The Íslendingabók, a main source for the early history of Iceland, recounts that on the Conversion of Iceland to Christianity in 1000 it was provided - in order to make the transition more palatable to Pagans - that "(...)the old laws allowing exposure of newborn children will remain in force". However, this provision - like other concessions made at the time to the Pagans - was abolished some years later.


Christianity rejected infanticide. The Teachings of the Apostles or Didache said "You shall not kill that which is born."[38] The Epistle of Barnabas stated an identical command.[39] So widely accepted was this teaching in Christendom that apologists Tertullian, Athenagoras, Minucius Felix, Justin Martyr and Lactantius also maintained that exposing a baby to death was a wicked act.[2] In 318 AD Constantine I considered infanticide a crime, and in 374 AD Valentinian I mandated to rear all children (exposing babies, especially girls, was still common). The Council of Constantinople declared that infanticide was homicide, and in 589 AD the Third Council of Toledo took measures against the Spanish custom of killing their own children.[31]

There is one debated example of child killing in Old Testament, Jephthah’s Vow.[40] Biblical scholars disagree as to whether Jephthah's daughter was actually sacrificed, or merely dedicated to a life of chaste service.[41]

Middle Ages

Whereas theologians and clerics preached sparing their lives, newborn abandonment continued as registered in both the literature record and in legal documents.[3] According to William L. Langer, exposure in the Middle Ages "was practiced on gigantic scale with absolute impunity, noticed by writers with most frigid indifference".[42] At the end of the 12th century, notes Richard Trexler, giving credence to misogynistic sermon literature as if it were a valid historical source, Roman women threw their newborns into the Tiber river in daylight.[43]

Unlike other European regions, in the Middle Ages the German mother had the right to expose the newborn.[44] In Gotland, Sweden, children were also sacrificed.[45]

In the High Middle Ages, abandoning unwanted children finally eclipsed infanticide. Unwanted children were left at the door of church or abbey, and the clergy was assumed to take care of their upbringing. This practice also saw the birth of the first orphanages.


The pre-Islamic Arabian society practiced infanticide as a form of "post-partum birth control".[46] Regarding the prevalence of this practice, we know it was "common enough among the pre-Islamic Arabs to be assigned a specific term, waʾd".[47] Infanticide was practiced either out of destitution (thus practiced on males and females alike), or as sacrifices to gods, or as "disappointment and fear of social disgrace felt by a father upon the birth of a daughter".[46]

Some authors believe that there is little evidence that infanticide was prevalent in pre-Islamic Arabia or early Muslim history, except for the case of the Tamim tribe, who practiced it during severe famine.[48] Others state that "female infanticide was common all over Arabia during this period of time" (pre-Islamic Arabia), especially by burying alive a female newborn.[7][49]

Infanticide is explicitly prohibited by the Qur'an.[50] "And do not kill your children for fear of poverty; We give them sustenance and yourselves too; surely to kill them is a great wrong." [51]

The Qur'an rejected the practice of infanticide. Together with polytheism and homicide, infanticide was regarded as a grave sin (see Template:Cite quran and Template:Cite quran).[46] Infanticide is also implicitly denounced in the story of Pharaoh's slaughter of the male children of Israelites (see Template:Cite quran; Template:Cite quran; Template:Cite quran; Template:Cite quran; Template:Cite quran ;Template:Cite quran). The Qur'an also mentions the story, not intended as an example to be followed, of the killing of an unbelieving young man by khidr. This was done in order to preserve the young man's faithful parents from disobedience and ingratitude which the young man was destined to bring to their life (see Template:Cite quran; Template:Cite quran).[46]


In Russia, peasants sacrificed their sons and daughters to the pagan god Perun.[citation needed] Although Church law forbade infanticide, it used to be practiced. Some rural people threw children to the swine.[citation needed] In Medieval Russia secular laws did not deal with what, for the church, was a crime.[52]

In Kamchatka, babies were killed and thrown to the dogs.[53] American explorer George Kennan noted that among the Koryaks, a Mongoloid people of north-eastern Siberia, infanticide was still common in the 19th century. One of the twins was always sacrificed.[54]


The Svans killed the newborn females by filling their mouths with hot ashes.[53]



Marco Polo, the famed explorer, saw newborns exposed in Manzi.[55] China's society practiced sex selective infanticide. Philosopher Han Fei Tzu, a member of the ruling aristocracy of the 3rd century BC, who developed a school of law, wrote: "As to children, a father and mother when they produce a boy congratulate one another, but when they produce a girl they put it to death."[56] Among the Hakka people, and in Yunnan, Anhwei, Szechwan, Jiangxi and Fukien a method of killing the baby was to put her into a bucket of cold water, which was called "baby water".[57]


Since feudal Japan the common slang for infanticide was "mabiki" (間引き) which means to pull plants from an overcrowded garden. A typical method in Japan was smothering through wet paper on the baby's mouth and nose.[58] Mabiki persisted in the 19th century and early 20th century.[59]

South Asia

Female infanticide of newborn girls was systematic in feudatory Rajputs in South Asia for illegitimate female children during the Middle Ages. According to Firishta, as soon as the illegitimate female child was born she was held "in one hand, and a knife in the other, that any person who wanted a wife might take her now, otherwise she was immediately put to death".[60] The practice of female infanticide was also common among the Kutch, Kehtri, Nagar, Gujarat, Miazed, Kalowries in India inhabitants, and also among the Sindh in British India.[61]

It was not uncommon that parents threw a child to the sharks in the Ganges River as a sacrificial offering. The British colonists were unable to outlaw the custom until the beginnings of the 19th century.[62]


In Africa some children were killed because of fear that they were an evil omen or because they were considered unlucky. Twins were usually put to death in Arebo; as well as by the Nama Hottentots of South West Africa; in the Lake Victoria Nyanza region; by the Tswana in Portuguese East Africa; among the Ilso and Igbo people of Nigeria; and by the !Kung Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert.[7] The Kikuyu, Kenya's most populous ethnic group, practiced ritual killing of twins.[63] If a mother died in childbirth among the Ibo people of Nigeria, the newborn was buried alive. It suffered a similar fate if the father died.[64]


Nineteenth-century European observers of Aboriginal life in South Australia and Victoria reported that about 30% of Aboriginal infants were killed at birth.[65]

North America


There is no agreement about the actual estimates of the frequency of newborn female infanticide in the Inuit population. Carmel Schrire mentions diverse studies ranging from 15-50% to 80%.[66]

Polar Inuks killed the child by throwing him or her into the sea.[67] There is even a legend in Inuit mythology, "The Unwanted Child", where a mother throws her child into the fjord.

The Yukon and the Mahlemuit tribes of Alaska exposed the female newborns by first stuffing their mouths with grass before leaving them to die.[68] In Arctic Canada the Inuit exposed their babies on the ice and left to die.[42]

Female Inuit infanticide disappeared in the 1930s and 1940s after contact with the Western cultures from the South.[69]


The Handbook of North American Indians reports infanticide and cannibalism among the Dene Indians and those of the Mackenzie Mountains.[70][71]

Native Americans

In the Eastern Shoshone there was a scarcity of Indian women as a result of female infanticide.[72] For the Maidu native Americans twins were so dangerous that they not only killed them, but the mother as well.[73] In the region known today as southern Texas, the Mariame Indians practiced infanticide of females on a large scale. Wives had to be obtained from neighboring groups.[74]


Bernal Díaz recounted that, after landing on the Veracruz coast, they came across a temple dedicated to Tezcatlipoca. "That day they had sacrificed two boys, cutting open their chests and offering their blood and hearts to that accursed idol".[75] In The Conquest of New Spain Díaz describes more child sacrifices in the towns before the Spaniards reached the large Aztec city Tenochtitlan.

South America

Although academic data of infanticides among the indigenous people in South America is not as abundant as that of North America, the estimates seem to be similar.


The Tapirapé indigenous people of Brazil allowed no more than three children per woman. Furthermore, no more than two had to be of the same sex. If the rule was broken infanticide was practiced.[76] The people in the Bororo tribe killed all the newborns that did not appear healthy enough. Infanticide is also documented in the case of the Korubo people in the Amazon.[77]

Peru, Paraguay and Bolivia

While Capacocha was practiced in the Peruvian large cities, child sacrifice in the pre-Columbian tribes of the region is less documented. However, even today studies on the Aymara Indians reveal high incidences of mortality among the newborn, especially female deaths, suggesting infanticide.[78] The Abipones, a small tribe of Guaycuran stock, of about 5,000 by the end of the 18th century in Paraguay, practiced systematic infanticide; with never more than two children being reared in one family. The machigenga killed their disabled children. Infanticide among the Chaco in Paraguay was estimated as high as 50% of all newborns in that tribe, who were usually buried.[79] The infanticidal custom had such roots among the Ayoreo in Bolivia and Paraguay that it persisted until the late 20th century.[80]

Present day

In November 2008 it was reported that in Agibu and Amosa villages of Gimi region of Eastern Highlands province of Papua New Guinea where tribal fighting in the region of Gimi has been going on since 1986 (many of the clashes arising over claims of sorcery) women had agreed that if they stopped producing males, allowing only female babies to survive, their tribe's stock of boys would go down and there would be no men in the future to fight. They agreed to have all new-born male babies killed. It is not known how many male babies were killed by being smothered, but it had reportedly happened to all males over a 10 year period and probably was still happening.[81] While the practice has become less common in the Western world, multiple well known cases have been noted in the popular press—including those of Andrea Yates who drowned her children, Sabine Hilschenz who killed eight of her children and, most recently, Véronique Courjault, who was found to have frozen her infants .[82] The frequency has been estimated to be approximately 1 in 3000-5000 children of all ages [83] and 2.1 per 100,000 newborns per year.[84] It is thought that infanticide today continues at a much higher rate in areas of extremely high poverty and overpopulation, such as parts of China and India.[85] Female infants, then and even now, are particularly vulnerable, a factor in gendercide.

In Africa

In spite of the fact that it is illegal, in Benin, West Africa, parents secretly continue with infanticidal customs.[86]

In India

The practice has continued in some rural areas of India.[87][88] Infanticide is illegal in India.[89]

According to a recent report by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) up to 50 million girls and women are missing in India's population as a result of systematic sex discrimination. The UNICEF study has been criticized by the Indian Medical Association for utilizing outdated data and for deliberately demonizing Indians for the purposes of politics[90][91]

In China

There have been some accusations that infanticide occurs in the People's Republic of China due to the one-child policy.[92] In the 1990s, a certain stretch of the Yangtze River was known to be a common site of infanticide by drowning, until government projects made access to it more difficult. Others assert that China has twenty-five million fewer girl children than expected, but sex selective abortion can partially be to blame. The illegal use of ultrasound is widespread in China, and itinerant sonographers with plain vans in parking lots offer inexpensive sonographs to determine the sex of a fetus.[93][94] Recent studies suggest that over 40 million girls and women are 'missing' in China (Klasen and Wink 2003).[95]

In North America

The United States ranked eleventh for infants under 1 year killed, and fourth for those killed from 1 through 14 years (the latter case not necessarily involving filicide).[96] In the U.S. over six hundred children were killed by their parents in 1983.[97] In Canada 114 cases of child murder by a parent were reported during 1964-1968.[98] The vast majority of infant deaths in the United States are female babies.[98] Some of the cases that made news were those of Amy Grossberg and Brian Peterson, Genene Jones, Marybeth Tinning, Melissa Drexler, Dena Schlosser and Waneta Hoyt.

In 2009, Texas state representative Jessica Farrar proposed legislation that would define infanticide as a distinct and lesser crime than homicide.[99] Under the terms of the proposed legislation, if jurors concluded that a mother's "judgment was impaired as a result of the effects of giving birth or the effects of lactation following the birth," they would be allowed to convict her of the crime of infanticide, rather than murder.[100] The maximum penalty for infanciticide would be two years in prison.[100] Farrar's introduction of this bill prompted liberal bioethics scholar Jacob M. Appel to call her "the bravest politician in America."[100]

Child euthanasia

Euthanasia applied to children that are gravely ill or that suffer from significant birth defects is controversial. Some critics have compared child euthanasia to infanticide.

Explanations for the practice

Diverse and often contradictory explanations have been proposed to account for infanticide.


Many historians believe the reason to be primarily economic, with more children born than the family is prepared to support. In societies that are patrilineal and patrilocal, the family may choose to allow more sons to live and kill some daughters, as the former will support their birth family until they die, whereas the latter will leave economically and geographically to join their husband's family, possibly only after the payment of a burdensome dowry price. Thus the decision to bring up a boy is more economically rewarding to the parents.[7] However, this does not explain why infanticide would occur equally among rich and poor, nor why it would be as frequent during decadent periods of the Roman Empire as during earlier, less affluent, periods.[7]

UK 18th and 19th Century

Instances of infanticide in Britain in 18th and 19th century is often attributed to the economic position of the women, with juries committing pious perjury in many subsequent court cases. The knowledge of the difficulties faced in the 18th century by those women who attempted to keep their children can be seen as reason for juries to show compassion. If the woman chose to keep the child, society was not set up to ease the pressure placed upon the woman, legally, socially or economically.[101]

In mid-18th century Britain there was assistance available for women who were not able to raise their children. The Foundling Hospital opened in 1756 and was able to take in some of the illegitimate children. However, the conditions within the hospital caused Parliament to withdraw funding and the governors to live off of their own incomes.[102] This resulted in a stringent entrance policy, with the committee requiring that the hospital:

'Will not receive a child that is more than a year old, nor the child of a domestic servant, nor any child whose father can be compelled to maintain it'.[103]

Once a mother had admitted her child to the hospital, the hospital did all it could to ensure that the parent and child were not re-united.[103]

Macfarlane argues in Illegitimacy and Illegitimates in Britain (1980) that English society greatly concerned itself with the burden that a bastard child places upon its communities and had gone to some lengths to ensure that the father of the child is identified in order to maintain its wellbeing.[104] Assistance could be gained through maintenance payments from the father, however, this was capped ‘at a miserable 2s and 6d a week’.[105] If the father got into arrears with the payments he could only be asked ‘to pay a maximum of 13 weeks arrears’.[105]

Despite the accusations of some that women were getting a free hand-out there is evidence that many women were far from receiving adequate assistance from their parish. ‘Within Leeds in 1822 … relief was limited to 1s per week’.[106] Sheffield required women to enter the workhouse, whereas Halifax gave no relief to the women who required it. The prospect of entering the workhouse was certainly something to be avoided. Lionel Rose quotes Dr Joseph Rogers in Massacre of the Innocents … (1986). Dr Rogers, who was employed by a London workhouse in 1856 stated that conditions in the nursery were ‘wretchedly damp and miserable … [and] … overcrowded with young mothers and their infants’.[107]

The loss of social standing for a servant girl was a particular problem in respect of producing a bastard child as they relied upon a good character reference in order to maintain their job and more importantly, to get a new or better job. In a large number of trials for the crime of infanticide, it is the servant girl that stood accused.[108] The disadvantage of being a servant girl is that they had to live to the social standards of their superiors or risk dismissal and no references. Whereas within other professions, such as in the factory, the relationship between employer and employee was much more anonymous and the mother would be better able to make other provisions, such as employing a minder.[109] The result of the lack of basic social care in Britain in the 18th and 19th century is the numerous accounts in court records of women, particularly servant girls, standing trial for the murder of their child.[110]

Population control

Marvin Harris estimated that among Paleolithic hunters 23-50% of newborn children were killed. He argued that the goal was to preserve the 0.001% population growth of that time.[111] He also wrote that female infanticide may be a form of population control.[111] Population control is achieved not only by limiting the number of potential mothers; increased fighting among men for access to relatively scarce wives would also lead to a decline in population. For example, on the Melanesian island of Tikopia infanticide was used to keep a stable population in line with its resource base.[5] Although additional research by Marvin Harris and William Divale supports this argument, it has been criticized as an example of environmental determinism.[112]

Customs and taboos

In 1888, Lieut. F. Elton reported that Ugi beach people in the Solomon Islands killed their infants at birth by burying them, and women were also said to practice abortion. They reported that it was too much trouble to raise a child, and instead preferred to buy one from the bush people.[113] Larry S. Milner, author of Hardness of Heart/Hardness of Life, a treatise on infanticide, believes that superstition has always reigned supreme in tribal religion. In chapters 9 through 21 Milner explores diverse customs and taboos as possible causes of infanticide, from punishment and shame to poverty, famine, revenge, depression and insanity and superstitious omens.


A minority of academics subscribe to an alternate school of thought, considering the practice as "early infanticidal childrearing".[114] They attribute parental infanticidal wishes to massive projection or displacement of the parents' unconscious onto the child, because of intergenerational, ancestral abuse by their own parents.[115] Clearly, an infanticidal parent may have multiple motivations, conflicts, emotions, and thoughts about their baby and their relationship with their baby, which are often colored both by their individual psychology, current relational context and attachment history, and, perhaps most saliently, their psychopathology[116] (See also Psychiatric section below) Almeida, Merminod, and Schechter[117] suggest that parents with fantasies, projections, and delusions involving infanticide need to be taken seriously and assessed carefully, whenever possible, by an interdisciplinary team that includes infant mental health specialists or mental health practitioners who have experience in working with parents, children, and families.

Wider effects

In addition to debates over the morality of infanticide itself, there is some debate over the effects of infanticide on surviving children, and the effects of childrearing in societies that also sanction infanticide. Some argue that the practice of infanticide in any widespread form causes enormous psychological damage in children.[114] Conversely, studying societies that practice infanticide Géza Róheim reported that even infanticidal mothers in New Guinea, who ate a child, did not affect the personality development of the surviving children; that "these are good mothers who eat their own children".[118] Harris and Divale's work on the relationship between female infanticide and warfare suggests that there are, however, extensive negative effects.


Postpartum psychosis has also been signaled as a causative factor of infanticide. Stuart S. Asch, MD, a Professor of Psychiatry at Cornell University established the connections between some cases of infanticide and post-partum depression.[119],[120] The books, From Cradle to Grave,[121] and The Death of Innocents,[122] describe selected cases of maternal infanticide and the investigative research of Professor Asch working in concert with the New York City Medical Examiner's Office. Stanley Hopwood wrote that childbirth and lactation entail severe stress on the female sex, and that under certain circumstances attempts at infanticide and suicide are common.[123] A study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry revealed that 44% of filicidal fathers had a diagnosis of psychosis.[124] In addition to postpartum psychosis, dissociative psychopathology and sociopathy have also been found to be associated with neonaticide in some cases[125]


Larry Milner writes in the concluding chapter of his study of infanticide:

So with this strata of support, I have concluded that it is a normal — a "natural"— trait for a human being to be willing to kill his or her own child, especially during the first year of life, and that there are genetic factors which are determinative of this compulsion.[7]

However, Milner's treatise includes at the same time cultural hypotheses for the practice, and his approach to the subject has been criticized as both scholarly and an idealized view of infanticide.[126]

Sex selection

Sex selection may be one of the contributing factors of infanticide. In the absence of sex-selective abortion, sex-selective infanticide can be deduced from very skewed birth statistics. The biologically normal sex ratio for humans is approximately 105 males per 100 females; normal ratios hardly ranging beyond 102-108.[127] When a society has an infant male to female ratio which is significantly higher than the biological norm, sex selection can usually be inferred.

Current Law

England and Wales

In England and Wales, the Infanticide Act 1938 describes the offence of infanticide as one which would otherwise amount to murder (by his/her mother) if the victim was older than 12 months and the mother was not suffering from an imbalance of mind due to the effects of childbirth or lactation. Where a mother who has killed such an infant has been charged with murder rather than infanticide s.1(3) of the Act confirms that a jury has the power to find alternative verdicts of Manslaughter in English law or guilty but insane.

In other animals


Infanticide occurs in other animals, such as in Hanuman Langurs.

Although human infanticide has been widely studied, the practice has been observed in many other species of the animal kingdom since it was first seriously studied by Yukimaru Sugiyama.[128] These include from microscopic rotifers and insects, to fish, amphibians, birds and mammals.[129] Infanticide can be practiced by both males and females.

Fictional examples

  • In the video game Dante's Inferno, the protagonist Dante is shown slaying unbaptized babies, who became demons after death.
  • In the guro hentai manga "The Daily Life of Mai-chan" by Waita Uziga, George Reitermann, the president of the United States in the Mai-chan universe, rapes and murders the newborn daughter of the protagonist Mai by throwing it in a blender.
  • In Silent Hill 3, Harry Mason has admitted in writing that there were times where he considered performing infanticide on Heather/Cheryl when she was an infant by strangling her.
  • In the musical The Prince of Egypt, a young Moses discovers the pharaoh ordered the infant children of the village Moses was born in to be devoured by crocodiles.
  • The Yu-Gi-Oh! GX character Adrian Gecko considers killing his newborn brother in the Japanese dub out of jealousy, but changes his mind.
  • The Titan Cronos of Greek mythology devours the children of Rhea in fear of being overthrown by one of his sons.
  • Infanticide appears several times in Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian.
  • In the manga series Hellsing, a glimpse of a vampiric Nazi officer devouring an infant can be seen during Millennium's attack on London.
  • In Family Guy, Stewie Griffin, a talking baby, is killed by Peter Griffin in the episode "Lois kills Stewie," but this is revealed to be only a reality simulation.
  • In Batman Returns, the Batman villain The Penguin attempts to kidnap all the first born babies of Gotham City and drown them as a form of revenge for his parents abandoning him.

See also



  1. 1.0 1.1 Williamson, Laila (1978). "Infanticide: an anthropological analysis". In Kohl, Marvin. Infanticide and the Value of Life. NY: Prometheus Books. pp. 61–75..
  2. 2.0 2.1 Justin Martyr, First Apology.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Boswell, John Eastburn (1984). "Exposition and oblation: the abandonment of children and the ancient and medieval family". American Historical Review 89 (1): 10–33. doi:10.2307/1855916.
  4. "Infant abandonment and institutionalisation still on the rise". Retrieved 2008-11-03.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Diamond, Jared (2005). Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. ISBN 0-14-303655-6.
  6. Birdsell, Joseph, B. (1986). "Some predictions for the Pleistocene based on equilibrium systems among recent hunter gatherers". In Lee, Richard & Irven DeVore. Man the Hunter. Aldine Publishing Co.. pp. 239..
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 7.7 Milner, Larry S. (2000). Hardness of Heart / Hardness of Life: The Stain of Human Infanticide. Lanham/New York/Oxford: University Press of America. ISBN 0-7618-1578-3.
  8. Hoffer, Peter; N.E.H. Hull (1981). Murdering Mothers: Infanticide in England and America, 1558-1803. NY: New York University Press. pp. 3.
  9. Simons, E.L. (1989). "Human origins". Science 245: 1344. doi:10.1126/science.2506640.
  10. Lull, Vicente et al.: Peinando la Muerte. Rituales de vida y muerte en la prehistoria de menorca. Barcelona 2006
  11. Reinhard, Johan; Maria Stenzel (November 1999). "A 6,700 metros niños incas sacrificados quedaron congelados en el tiempo". National Geographic: 36–55.
  12. Discovery Channel: The mystery of Inca child sacrifice
  13. de Sahagún, Bernardino (1950-1982). Florentine Codex: History of the Things of New Spain. Utah: University of Utah Press.
  14. "Egypt and the Egyptians", Emily Teeter, p. 97, Cambridge University Press, 1999, ISBN 052144984
  15. "Eroticism and Infanticide at Ashkelon", Lawrence E. Stager, Biblical Archaeology Review, July/Aug 1991
  16. "Folkways: A Study of Mores, Manners, Customs and Morals", William Graham Sumner, p. 318, org pub 1906, Cosmo 2007, ISBN 160206758
  17. "Life in Ancient Egypt", Adolf Erman, Translated by H. M. Tirard, p. 141, org pub 1894, republished Kessinger 2003, ISBN 0766176606
  18. "Ancient Egypt", David P. Silverman, p. 13, Oxford University Press US, 2003, ISBN 019521952X
  19. "The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt", Ian Shaw, p. 54, Oxford University Press, 2002, ISBN 0192802933
  20. "Of God and Gods", Jan Assmann, p. 32, University of Wisconsin Press, 2008, ISBN 0299225542
  21. 21.0 21.1 Brown, Shelby (1991). Late Carthaginian Child Sacrifice and Sacrificial Monuments in their Mediterranean Context. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press.
  22. Brown, Shelby (1991). Late Carthaginian Child Sacrifice and Sacrificial Monuments in their Mediterranean Context. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press. pp. 22–23.
  23. Stager, Lawrence; Samuel R. Wolff (1984). "Child sacrifice at Carthage — religious rite or population control?". Biblical Archaeology Review 10 (Jan/Feb): 31–51.
  24. Hughes, Dennis D. (1991). Human Sacrifice in Ancient Greece. Routledge. pp. 187. ISBN 0-415-03483-3.
  25. See Plutarch's Life of Lycurgus.
  26. See (e.g.) Budin 2004, 122-23.
  27. Infant exposure
  28. Philo (1950). The Special Laws. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. III, XX.117, Volume VII, pp. 118, 551, 549.
  29. "249. Exposure of a female child. Oxyrhynchus, Egypt, 1 B.C. (Oxyrhynchus papyrus 744. G)"
  30. Naphtali, Lewis, ed. (1985). "Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 744". Life in Egypt Under Roman Rule. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 54..
  31. 31.0 31.1 Radbill, Samuel X. (1974). "A history of child abuse and infanticide". In Steinmetz, Suzanne K. and Murray A. Straus. Violence in the Family. NY: Dodd, Mead & Co.. pp. 173–179..
  32. Tacitus (1931). The Histories. London: William Heinemann. Volume II, 183.
  33. Josephus (1976). The Works of Flavius Josephus, "Against Apion". Cambridge: Harvard University Press. pp. II.25, p. 597.
  34. "Moloch". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 2008. Retrieved 2008-03-22.
  35. Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sanhedrin 64A Mishnah
  36. 36.0 36.1 Boswell, John (1988). The Kindness of Strangers. NY: Vintage Books.
  37. Lubbock, John (1865). Pre-historic Times, as Illustrated by Ancient Remains, and the Manners and Customs of Modern Savages. London: Williams and Norgate. pp. 176.
  38. Robinson, J. Armitage (translator), ed. (1920). "Didache". Barnabas, Hermar and the Didache. D.ii.2c. NY: The MacMillan Co.. pp. 112..
  39. Ibid., Epistle of Barnabas, xix.5d.
  42. 42.0 42.1 Langer, William L. (1974). "Infanticide: a historical survey". History of Childhood Quarterly 1 (3): 353–366. PMID 11614564.
  43. Trexler, Richard (1973). "Infanticide in Florence: new sources and first results". History of Childhood quarterly 1: 99.
  44. Westrup, C.W. (1944). Introduction to Roman Law. London: Oxford University Press. pp. 249.
  45. Turville-Petre, Gabriel (1964). Myth and Religion of the North: The Religion of Ancient Scandinavia. NY: Holt, Rinehart & Winston. pp. 253.
  46. 46.0 46.1 46.2 46.3 Encyclopedia of the Qur'an, Children
  47. Donna Lee Bowen, Encyclopedia of the Qur'an, Infanticide
  48. Lammens, Henri (1929/1987). Islam. Belief and Institutions. London: Methuen & Co. Ltd.. pp. 21.
  49. Smith, William Robertson (1903). Kinship and Marriage in Early Arabia. London: Adam & Charles Block. pp. 293.
  50. Esposito, John L. (editor) (2004). The Oxford Dictionary of Islam. NY: Oxford University Press. pp. 138. ISBN 9780195125597.
  51. Qur'an, XVII:31. Other passages condemning infanticide in the Qur'an appear in LXXXI:8-9, XVI:60-62, XVII:42 and XLII:48.
  52. Ransel, David (1988). Mothers of Misery. Princeton: Princeton University Press. pp. 10–12.
  53. 53.0 53.1 McLennan, J.F. (1886). Studies in Ancient History, The Second Series. NY: Macmillan & Co., Ltd..
  54. Kennan, George (1986 (originally published in 1871)). Tent Life in Siberia. NY: Gibbs Smith.
  55. Polo, Marco (1965). The Travels. Middlesex: Penguin Books. pp. 174.
  56. Yu-Lan, Fung (1952). A History of Chinese Philosophy. Princeton: Princeton University Press. pp. 327.
  57. Yao, Esther S. Lee (1983). Chinese Women: Past and Present. Mesquite: Ide House. pp. 75.
  58. Shiono, Hiroshi; Atoyo Maya, Noriko Tabata, Masataka Fujiwara, Jun-ich Azumi and Mashahiko Morita (1986). "Medicolegal aspects of infanticide in Hokkaido District, Japan". American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology 7 (2): 104. doi:10.1097/00000433-198607020-00004. PMID 3740005.
  59. Vaux, Kenneth (1989). Birth Ethics. NY: Crossroad. pp. 12.
  60. Westermarck, Edward (1968). A Short History of Marriage. NY: Humanities Press. pp. Vol. III, 162.
  61. Panigrahi, Lalita (1972). British Social Policy and Female Infanticidein India. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal. pp. 18.
  62. Davies, Nigel (1981). Human Sacrifice. NY: William Morrow & Co. ISBN 0333223845.
  63. LeVine, Sarah and Robert LeVine (1981). "Child abuse and neglect in Sub-Saharan Africa". In Korbin, Jill. Child Abuse and Neglect. Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 39..
  64. Basden, G.T. (1996). Niger Ibos. NY: Barnes & Noble. pp. 180–184, 262–263.
  65. Rubinstein, W. D. (2004). Genocide: a history. Pearson Education. p. 16. ISBN 0582506018.
  66. Schrire, Carmel; William Lee Steiger (1974). "A matter of life and death: an investigation into the practice of female infanticide in the Arctic". Man: the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Society 9: 162.
  67. Fridtjof, Nansen (1894). Eskimo Life. London: Longmans, Green & Co.. pp. 152.
  68. Garber, Clark (1947). "Eskimo Infanticide". Scientific monthly 64: 98.
  69. Balikci, Asen (1984). "Netslik". In Damas, David. Handbook of North American Indians (Arctic). Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution. pp. 427..
  70. Savishinsky, Joel and Hiroko Sue Hara (1981). "Hare". In Helm, June. Handbook of North American Indians (Subarctic). Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution. pp. 322..
  71. Gillespie, Beryl (1981). "Mountain Indians". In Helm, June. Handbook of North American Indians (Subarctic). Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution. pp. 331..
  72. Shimkin, Demitri, B. (1986). "Eastern Shoshone". In D'Azevedo, Warren L.. Handbook of North American Indians (Great Basin). Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution. pp. 330..
  73. Riddell, Francis (1978). "Maidu and Konkow". In Heizer, Robert F.. Handbook of North American Indians (California). Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution. pp. 381..
  74. Campbell, T.N. (1983). "Coahuitlecans and their neighbors". In Ortiz, Alonso. Handbook of North American Indians (Southwest). Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution. pp. 352..
  75. Díaz, Bernal (2005, published posthumously in 1632). Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva España. Mexico City: Editorial Porrúa. pp. 25.
  76. Johnson, Orna (1981). "The socioeconomic context of child abuse and neglect in native South America". In Korbin, Jill. Child Abuse and Neglect. Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 63..
  77. Cotlow, Lewis (1971). The Twilight of the Primitive. NY: Macmillan. pp. 65.
  78. de Meer, Kees; Roland Bergman & John S. Kushner (1993). "Socio-cultural determinations of child mortality in Southern Peru: including some methodological considerations". Social Science and Medicine 36: 323, 328.
  79. Hastings, James (1955). Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics. NY: Scribner's Sons. Vol. I, 6.
  80. Bugos, Paul E. & Lorraine M. McCarthy (1984). "Ayoreo infanticide: a case study". In Hausfater, Glenn & Sarah Blaffer Hrdy. Infanticide, Comparative and Evolutionary Perspectives. NY: Aldine. pp. 510..
  81. The villages mothers killed EVERY baby born boy
  83. Putkonen, Amon, Almiron, Cederwall, Eronen, Klier, Kjelsberg, Weizmann-Henelius (2009). Filicide in Austria and Finland - A register-based study on all filicide cases in Austria and Finland 1995-2005. BMC Psychiatry. 9:74.
  84. Herman-Giddens, Marcia E.; Jamie B. Smith; Manjoo Mittal; Mandie Carlson; John D. Butts (19). "Newborns Killed or Left to Die by a Parent A Population-Based Study.". JAMA 289 (11): 1425–1429. doi:10.1001/jama.289.11.1425. ISSN 0098-7484(Print);1538-3598(Online). PMID 12636466. Retrieved 2010-07-12. "Context: Interest in the discarding or killing of newborns by parents has increased due to wide news coverage and efforts by states to provide Safe Haven legislation to combat the problem.".
  85. Gendercide Watch: Female Infanticide
  86. Sargent, Carolyn (1988). "Born to die: witchcraft and infanticide in Bariba culture". Ethnology 27 (1): 81. doi:10.2307/3773562.
  87. Murphy, Paul (May 21, 1995). "Killing baby girls routine in India". San Francisco Examiner: pp. C12..
  88. Grim motives behind infant killings,, July 7, 2003
  89. For India's daughters, a dark birth day,, February 9, 2005
  90. News on Lancet Report
  91. Abortion, Female Infanticide, Foeticide, Son preference in India
  92. NBC: China begins to face sex-ratio imbalance,, September 14, 2004
  93. Mathew, Jay; Linda Mathew (1983). One Billion: A China Chronicle. NY: Random House.
  94. Tien, Yuan H. (1991). China's Strategic Demographic Initiative. NY: Praeger.
  95. Estimation of the Number of Missing Females in China: 1900-2000
  96. Jason, Janine (1983). "Child homicide spectrum". American Journal of Disease in Children 137: 578.
  97. Kaye, Neil; Neal M. Borenstein and Susan Donnelly (1990). "Families, murder, and insanity: a psychiatric review of paternal neonaticide". Journal of Forensic Sciences 35: 134.
  98. 98.0 98.1 Rodenburg, Martin (1971). "Child murder by depressed parents". Canadian Psychiatric Association Journal 16: 43.
  99. Proposed Texas House bill would recognize postpartum psychosis as a defense for moms who kill infants
  100. 100.0 100.1 100.2 When Infanticide Isn't Murder
  101. McLynn, Frank (1989). Crime and Punishment in 18th Century England. London: Routledge. pp. 102.
  102. unknown, unknown (1878). "The Foundling Hospital and Neighbourhood". Old and New London Journal 5.
  103. 103.0 103.1 unknown, unknown (1878). "The Foundling Hospital and Neighbourhood". Old and New London Journal 5.
  104. MacFarlane, Alan (1980). Illegitimacy and Illegitimates in English History. Arnold. pp. 75.
  105. 105.0 105.1 Rose, Lionel (1986). Massacre of the Innocents: Infanticide in Great Britain 1800-1939. London: Routledge and Kegan. pp. 28.
  106. Rose, Lionel (1986). Massacre of the Innocents: Infanticide in Great Britain 1800-1939. London: Routledge and Kegan. pp. 25.
  107. Rose, Lionel (1986). Massacre of the Innocents: Infanticide in Great Britain 1800-1939. London: Routledge and Kegan. pp. 31–33.
  108. McLynn, Frank (1989). Crime and Punishment in 18th Century England. London: Routledge. pp. 111.
  109. Rose, Lionel (1986). Massacre of the Innocents: Infanticide in Great Britain 1800-1939. London: Routledge and Kegan. pp. 19.
  110. Hitchcock/Shoemaker, Tim/Robert (2006). University of Sheffield and University of Hertfordshire.
  111. 111.0 111.1 Harris, Marvin (1977). Cannibals and Kings: The Origins of Cultures. NY: Random House.
  112. Hallpike, C.R. (1988). The Principles of Social Evolution. Oxford: Claredon Press. pp. 237–238.
  113. Elton, Lieut. F. (1988). "Notes on Natives of the Solomon Islands". The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 17: 90–99. doi:10.2307/2841588.
  114. 114.0 114.1 deMause, Lloyd (2002). The Emotional Life of Nations. NY, London: Karnak. pp. 258–262.
  115. Godwin, Robert W. (2004). One cosmos under God. Minnesota: Paragon House. pp. 124–176.
  116. Almeida A, Merminod G, Schechter DS (2009). Mothers with severe psychiatric illness and their newborns: a hospital-based model of perinatal consultation. Journal of ZERO-TO-THREE: National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families, 29(5), 40-46.
  118. Róheim, Géza (1950). Psychoanalysis and Anthropology. NY: International Universities Press. pp. 60–62.
  119. Asch SS. Crib deaths: their possible relationship to post-partum depression and infanticide. J Mount Sinai Hosp. 1968;35:214-220.
  120. Asch SS, Rubin L. Post-partum reactions: some unrecognized variations. Am J Psychiatry; 1974:131: 870-4.
  121. Egginton, Joyce. From Cradle to Grave. The Short Lives and Strange Deaths of Marybeth Tinning's Nine Children. 1989. William Morrow, New York
  122. Richard Firstman and Jamie Talan. The Death of Innocents. Bantam, New York. 1997
  123. Hopwood, Stanley, J. (1927). "Child murder and insanity". Journal of Clinical and Experimental Psychopathology 73: 96.
  124. Campion, John; James M. Cravens and Fred Covan (1988). "A study of filicidal men". American Journal of Psychiatry 145: 143.
  125. Spinelli MG (2001. A systematic investigation of 16 cases of neonaticide. American Journal of Psychiatry, 158(5):811-3.
  126. Tort, Cesar (2008). "A schizophrenic yet very useful monograph on infanticide". Journal of Psychohistory (NY) 30 (2): 186–189.
  127. Barclay, George W. (1958). Techniques of Population Analysis. NY: John Wiley & Sons. pp. 83.
  128. Sugiyama, Y. (1965) On the social change of Hanuman langurs (Presbytis entellus) in their natural conditions. Primates 6:381-417.
  129. Hoogland, J. L. (1985) Infanticide in Prairie Dogs: Lactating Females Kill Offspring of Close Kin Science 230:1037-1040.

External links

ca:Infanticidi de:Kindstötung es:Infanticidio fr:Infanticide ko:영아 살해 it:Infanticidio ja:子殺し pl:Dzieciobójstwo pt:Infanticídio ru:Детоубийство sr:Инфантицид fi:Vauvojen surmaaminen sv:Barnadråp zh:殺嬰

Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.