Neonaticide

Killing neonates (especially female infants) has been customary in certain societies as an official policy or 'grass-roots' custom for controlling population growth. This is completely different from anomic (outside both custom and law) neonaticide, in which a mother, giving birth in secret, kills the infant immediately after parturition. This was a major public health problem in Europe during the nineteenth century. During this century, the frequency has dwindled as a result of contraception, a relaxation of the abortion laws, and changed attitudes to single motherhood, but it still occurs.

The mental state of mothers who kill the newborn can be deduced from the methods used. Suffocation is by far the most common,(72) followed by drowning, and these testify to the mother's panic, faced by a crying baby. In a minority, brutal head injuries, stabbing, or decapitation testify to rage and hatred.

In Europe, starting in Russia in 1647, the public has gradually taken a humane view of this felony. By 1881, all European states, with the exception of England and Wales, made a distinction between infanticide and other forms of murder, and assigned a more lenient penalty. England and Wales at last came into line with the Infanticide Act 1992. In some American states no distinction is made between this and other forms of murder.

There has been much debate whether the defence of insanity can be invoked. Most of these babies die when the mother is in the grip of an emotional crisis—seized by fear or fury. This is not generally acceptable in law as evidence of insanity, which is defined as a defect of reason. However, impairment of consciousness undoubtedly occurs during labour (see above). It is rare in hospital practice, but may be more common in clandestine deliveries. If the burden of proof is with the defence, there can be no valid evidence in unwitnessed deliveries; but there is the possibility of a miscarriage of justice—that a mother, who killed her baby when her consciousness was clouded, is wrongly condemned. (See also ChapterJ 1.3.)

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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