Filicide

The majority of murdered children are killed by their parents, and the majority of female murderers kill their own child. A survey in Queensland gave an estimate of the frequency: of 49 infanticides between 1969 and 1978 there were 11 neonaticides and 38 filicides; this is about 20 in 100 000 births, or 3 in 100 000 per year of children under 5 years of age. (73> In Sweden, between 1971 and 1980, there were 79 cases involving 96 children—an annual rate of 2 in 100 000 children under the age of 5 years.(74> There are a variety of causes.

• Depression This is the most common cause. Studies of convicted mothers underestimate the frequency of depressive filicide, because many commit suicide. Depressive murder is often committed in the belief that the child's best interests are being served—delusional mercy-killing. Mothers surviving depressive filicide usually make no attempt to conceal the crime; they confess and seek punishment. Mothers may kill more than one child, but family murder seems more common in men.

• Child abuse This is the other relatively common cause. Death results from ill-tempered assaults or overzealous punishment, without homicidal intent. Fathers are often involved.

• Psychosis In non-affective psychosis, filicide may occur if delusions involve the child or as a result of command hallucinations. Menstrual psychosis and delirium tremens are occasional causes.

• Trance states A few filicides have occurred during epileptic automatism or somnambulism.

Not all parental child murder occurs as a complication of mental illness. Unwanted infants or children are occasionally murdered in cold blood. Euthanasia of an incurably ill and suffering child also occurs. (See also ChapterJ 1.3.)

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