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Infanticide is the practice of someone intentionally killing an infant. 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.

In the United Kingdommarker, the Infanticide Act defines "infanticide" as a specific crime equivalent to manslaughter that can only be committed by the mother intentionally killing her own baby during the first twelve months of its life; in other cultures, the concept of infanticide includes the intentional killing of children older than twelve months. 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 Carthagemarker, 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.

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). Infant abandonment still occurs in modern societies.

In at least one island in Oceania, infanticide was carried out until the 20th century by suffocating the infant, 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.

Decapitated skeletons of hominid children have been found with evidence of cannibalism. Joseph Birdsell believes in infanticide rates of 15-50% of the total number of births in prehistoric times. Williamson estimated a lower rate ranging from 15-20%. Both believe that high rates of infanticide persisted until the development of agriculture. Comparative anthropologists have calculated that 50% of female newborn babies were killed by their parents in the Paleolithic.

In ancient history

Child sacrifice, the ritualistic killing of children in order to please supernatural beings, was far more common in ancient history than in present times.

In the New World

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

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 Gezermarker excavations with signs of sacrifice. Child skeletons with the marks of sacrifice have been found also in Egyptmarker dating 950-720 BCE. In Carthagemarker "[child] sacrifice in the ancient world reached its infamous zenith." Besides the Carthaginians, other Phoeniciansmarker, 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. The religion of the Ancient Egyptians forbade infanticide and during the Greco-Roman period they rescued abandoned babies from manure heaps, a not uncommon 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. Strabo considered it a peculiarity of the Egyptians that every child must be reared. Diodorus indicates infanticide was a punishable offence. 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 CE and 1180-1350 CE. Instances of cannibalism are recorded during these periods but it is unknown if this happened during the pharaonic era of Ancient Egypt. Beatrix Midant-Reynes describes human sacrifice as having occurred at Abydos in the early dynastic period (c. 3150-2850 BCE) Jan Assmann asserts there is no clear evidence of human sacrifice ever happening in Ancient Egypt.

Carthaginiansmarker, descendants of the Phoeniciansmarker, sacrificed infants to their gods. Charred bones of hundreds of infants have been found in Carthaginian archaeological sites. One such area harbored as many as 20,000 burial urns. It is estimated that child sacrifice was practiced for centuries in the region. Plutarch (ca. 46–120 CE) 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 BCE, 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.

Greece and Rome
The historical Greeks considered the practice of adult and child sacrifice barbarous. 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. 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. This very situation was a recurring motif in Greek mythology.[2116]

The practice was prevalent in ancient Rome, as well. Philo was the first philosopher to speak out against it. A letter from a Roman citizen to his wife, dating from 1 BCE, 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."

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 CE, but offenders were rarely if ever prosecuted.

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." Josephus, whose works give an important insight into first-century Judaism, wrote that God "forbids women to cause abortion of what is begotten, or to destroy it afterward."

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)..

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

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.

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. "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." 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.

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 Icelandmarker, 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." The Epistle of Barnabas stated an identical command. 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. In 318 CE Constantine I considered infanticide a crime, and in 374 CE 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 CE the Third Council of Toledo took measures against the Spanish custom of killing their own children.

Middle Ages

Whereas theologians and clerics preached sparing their lives, newborn abandonment continued as registered in both the literature record and in legal documents. 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". At the end of the 12th century, notes Richard Trexler, Roman women threw their newborns into the Tiber river even in daylight.

Child sacrifice was practiced by the Gauls, Celts and the Irish. "They would kill their piteous wretched offspring with much wailing and peril, to pour their blood around Crom Cruaich", a deity of pre-Christian Ireland.

Unlike other European regions, in the Middle Ages the German mother had the right to expose the newborn. In Gotlandmarker, Swedenmarker, children were also sacrificed. Infant exposure, and the eating of horsemeat, were two concessions made when the pagan Norse Icelanders eventually adopted Christianity in the year 1000.

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 practise also saw the birth of the first orphanages.


The pre-Islamic Arabian society practiced infanticide as a form of "post-partum birth control". Regarding the prevalence of this practice, we know it was "common enough among the pre-Islamic Arabs to be assigned a specific term, waʾd". 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".

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. 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.

Infanticide is explicitly prohibited by the Qur'an. "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."

The Qur'an rejected the practice of infanticide. Together with polytheism and homicide, infanticide was regarded as a grave sin (see and ). Infanticide is also implicitly denounced in the story of Pharaoh's slaughter of the male children of Israelites (see ; ; ; ; ; ). 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 ; ).


In Russiamarker, peasants sacrificed their sons and daughters to the pagan god Perun. Although Church law forbade infanticide, it used to be practiced. Some rural people threw children to the swine. In Medieval Russia secular laws did not deal with what, for the church, was a crime. The Svans killed the newborn females by filling their mouths with hot ashes.

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



Marco Polo, the famed explorer, saw newborns exposed in Manzi. China's society promoted gendercide. Philosopher Han Fei Tzu, a member of the ruling aristocracy of the 3rd century BCE, 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." Among the Hakka people, and in Yunnanmarker, Anhweimarker, Szechwanmarker, Jiangximarker and Fukien a method of killing the baby was to put her into a bucket of cold water, which was called "baby water".


Since feudal Japanmarker the common slang for infanticide was "mabiki" 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. Mabiki persisted in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

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 hold "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". The practice of female infanticide was also common among the Kutch, Kehtri, Nagar, Gujaratmarker, Miazed, Kalowries in India inhabitants, and also among the Sindmarker in British India.

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


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 Nyanzamarker region; by the Tswana in Portuguese East Africamarker; among the Ilso and Igbo people of Nigeriamarker; and by the !Kung Bushmen of the Kalahari Desertmarker. The Kikuyu, Kenyamarker's most populous ethnic group, practiced ritual killing of twins. 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.

North America

Infanticide and child sacrifice was practiced in the New World at times when in Western Europe it was largely abandoned.


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

Polar Eskimos killed the child by throwing him or her into the sea. There is even a legend in Eskimo folklore, "The Unwanted Child", where a mother throws her child into the fjord.

The Yukonmarker and the Mahlemuit tribes of Alaskamarker exposed the female newborns by first stuffing their mouths with grass before leaving them to die. In Arctic Canadamarker the Eskimos exposed their babies on the ice and left to die.

Female Eskimo infanticide disappeared in the 1930s and 1940s after contact with the Western cultures from the South.


The Handbook of North American Indians reports infanticide and cannibalism among the Dene Indians and those of the Mackenzie Mountainsmarker.

Native Americans

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


Bernal Díaz recounted that, after landing on the Veracruzmarker 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". 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 the one of North America, the estimates seem to be similar.


The Tapirapé indigenous people of Brazilmarker 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. 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.

Peru, Paraguay and Bolivia

While Capacocha was practiced in the Peruvianmarker 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. The Abipones, a small tribe of Guaycuran stock, of about 5,000 by the end of the 18th century in Paraguaymarker, 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. The infanticidal custom had such roots among the Ayoreo in Boliviamarker and Paraguay that it persisted until the late 20th century.

Present day

In November 2008 it was reported that in Agibu and Amosa villages of Gimi region of Eastern Highlandsmarker province of Papua New Guineamarker 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.
However, the practice has become less common in the Western world, but continues today in areas of extremely high poverty and overpopulation, such as parts of Chinamarker and Indiamarker. 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 Beninmarker, West Africa, parents secretly continue with infanticidal customs.

In India

The practice has continued in some rural areas of India. Infanticide is illegal in India.

According to a recent report by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) up to 50 million girls and women are missing in Indiamarker'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


Although it is practiced by some segments of the Hindu society, infanticide stands condemned by Hindu religious leaders in India [2117] and is not sanctioned in scripture, despite claims to the contrary by anti-Hindus.Hindu authorities condemn infanticide that has occurred in parts of India.

The situation in China

There have been some accusations that infanticide occurs in the People's Republic of Chinamarker due to the one-child policy. In the 1990s, a certain stretch of the Yangtze Rivermarker 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. Recent studies suggest that over 40 million girls and women are 'missing' in China (Klasen and Wink 2003).

In North America

The United Statesmarker 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). In the U.S. over six hundred children were killed by their parents in 1983. In Canada 114 cases of child-murder by a parent were reported during 1964-1968. 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, Texasmarker state representative Jessica Farrar proposed legislation that would define infanticide as a distinct and lesser crime than homicide. 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. The maximum penalty for infanciticide would be two years in prison. Farrar's introduction of this bill prompted liberal bioethics scholar Jacob M. Appel to call her "the bravest politician in America."

Child euthanasia

Child euthanasia is a controversial form of euthanasia which is applied to children that are gravely ill or that suffer from important birth defects. 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. 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.

Economic - 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 difficulty women 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.

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. 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'.

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.

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. Assistance could be gained through maintenance payments from the father, however, this was capped ‘at a miserable 2s and 6d a week’. If the father got into arrears with the payments he could only be asked ‘to pay a maximum of 13 weeks arrears’.

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’. 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’.

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. 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. 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.

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. He also wrote that female infanticide may be a form of population control. 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 Tikopiamarker infanticide was used to keep a stable population in line with its resource base. Although additional research by Marvin Harris and William Divale supports this argument, it has been criticized as an example of environmental determinism.

Customs and taboos

In 1888, Lieut. F. Elton reported that Ugi beach people in the Solomon Islandsmarker 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. 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". 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.

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. Conversely, studying societies that practice infanticide Géza Róheim reported that even infanticidal mothers in New Guineamarker, who ate a child, did not affect the personality development of the surviving children; that "these are good mothers who eat their own children". 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., The books, From Cradle to Grave, and The Death of Innocents, 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. A study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry revealed that 44% of filicidal fathers had a diagnosis of psychosis.


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.

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.

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. When a society has an infant male to female ratio which is significantly higher than the biological norm, sex selection can usually be inferred.

"100 million missing women"

Main article: Missing women of Asia

The idea of there being "100 million missing women", largely in Asia, originated with or was popularised by an influential 1990 essay by Amartya Sen.

In other animals

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. These include from microscopic rotifers and insects, to fish, amphibians, birds and mammals. Infanticide can be practiced by both males and females.

See also


  1. Justin Martyr, First Apology.
  2. Diamond, Jared (2005). Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. ISBN 0-14-303655-6.
  3. Discovery Channel: The mystery of Inca child sacrifice
  4. "Egypt and the Egyptians", Emily Teeter, p. 97, Cambridge University Press, 1999, ISBN 052144984
  5. "Eroticism and Infanticide at Ashkelon", Lawrence E. Stager, Biblical Archaeology Review, July/Aug 1991
  6. "Folkways: A Study of Mores, Manners, Customs and Morals", William Graham Sumner, p. 318, org pub 1906, Cosmo 2007, ISBN 160206758
  7. "Life in Ancient Egypt", Adolf Erman, Translated by H. M. Tirard, p. 141, org pub 1894, republished Kessinger 2003, ISBN 0766176606
  8. "Ancient Egypt", David P. Silverman, p. 13, Oxford University Press US, 2003, ISBN 019521952X
  9. "The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt", Ian Shaw, p. 54, Oxford University Press, 2002, ISBN 0192802933
  10. "Of God and Gods", Jan Assmann, p. 32, University of Wisconsin Press, 2008, ISBN 0299225542
  11. See Plutarch's Life of Lycurgus.
  12. See (e.g.) Budin 2004, 122-23.
  13. "249. Exposure of a female child. Oxyrhynchus, Egypt, 1 B.C. (Oxyrhynchus papyrus 744. G)"
  14. Ibid., Epistle of Barnabas, xix.5d.
  15. Encyclopedia of the Qur'an, Children
  16. Donna Lee Bowen, Encyclopedia of the Qur'an, Infanticide
  17. 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.
  18. The villages mothers killed EVERY baby born boy
  19. Gendercide Watch: Female Infanticide
  20. .
  21. Grim motives behind infant killings,, July 7, 2003
  22. For India's daughters, a dark birth day,, February 9, 2005
  23. News on Lancet Report
  24. Abortion, Female Infanticide, Foeticide, Son preference in India
  25. The historic and religious origins of female infanticide.
  26. NBC: China begins to face sex-ratio imbalance,, September 14, 2004
  27. Estimation of the Number of Missing Females in China: 1900-2000
  28. Proposed Texas House bill would recognize postpartum psychosis as a defense for moms who kill infants
  29. When Infanticide Isn't Murder
  30. When Infanticide Isn't Murder
  31. When Infanticide Isn't Murder
  32. [ Asch SS. Crib deaths: their possible relationship to post-partum depression and infanticide. J Mount Sinai Hosp. 1968;35:214-220.
  33. Asch SS, Rubin L. Post-partum reactions: some unrecognized variations. Am J Psychiatry; 1974:131: 870-4.
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