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For practices of killing infants after 24 hours of a child's birth but under the age of 12 months, see infanticide. For the killing of older children by a parent, see filicide.

Neonaticide usually refers to the killing of a child during the first 24 hours of life in medical publications.[1] However, Romania defines that infanticide can only occur in the first 24 hours after birth.[2] As a noun, the word "neonaticide" may also refer to anyone who practice or who have practiced this.

Neonaticide are rare in developed countries but most of them remain secret:

every year, hundreds of women commit neonaticide: they kill their newborns or let them die. Most neonaticides remain undiscovered, but every once in a while a janitor follows a trail of blood to a tiny body in a trash bin, or a woman faints and doctors find the remains of a placenta inside her.

—Steven Pinker, New York Times, 1997[3]

Parental infanticide are more commonly done by fathers than mothers[4] but vice versa for neonaticide.[5]

Current law[edit]


The Penal Code of Romania resolved a new Penal Code, scheduled to come into force in 2014, which states that infanticide can only occur in the first 24 hours after birth.[2]


An early reference to filicide (the killing of a child by a parent) is in Greek mythology, In his play, Medea, Euripides portrayed Medea as having killed her two sons after Jason abandoned her for the daughter of the King of Corinth[6] giving us what has been termed the Medea Complex.[7] Under the Roman Law, patria potestas, the right of a father to kill his own children was protected.[8][9] It was not until the 4th century that the Roman state, influenced by Christianity, began to regard filicide as a crime. Still, mothers who killed their infants or newborns received lesser sentences under both the laws of the church and the state.[10] The church consistently dealt more leniently with those mothers whose children died by "overlying," an accidental death by smothering when a sleeping parent rolled over on the infant. The opinions of the church in these deaths reflects an awareness of one of society's first attempts to understand the severe problem of overpopulation and overcrowding.[11] England has traditionally viewed infanticide as a "special crime," passing its first Infanticide Act in 1623 under the Stuarts and more recently in the Infanticide Acts of 1922 and 1938.[12][13] Most recently England passed the Infanticide Act of 1978 which allows a lesser sentence for attempted infanticide.[14] Unlike England and other European countries, the United States has not adopted special statutes to deal with infanticide or neonaticide. Nonetheless, juries and judges, as reflected in their verdicts and sentences, have consistently considered the difficulties and stresses of a mother during the post-partum period.[15]

Cultural aspects[edit]

The Chinese, as late as the 20th century, killed newborn daughters because they were unable to transmit the family name. Additionally, daughters were viewed as weaker and not as useful in time of war or for agricultural work. In the past, Inuit killed infants with known congenital anomalies and often one of a set of twins.[16] Similarly, Mohave Indians had killed all children of racially mixed birth at birth.[17] In their 1981 paper, Sakuta and Saito[18] reviewed infanticide in Japan and describe the two distinct types of infanticide commonly seen. The Mabiki type corresponds to the ancient means of "thinning out" or population control; the Anomie type, a product of modern society, corresponds to the "unwanted child."

Neonaticide statistics[edit]

The United States ranks first in rates of homicide of children under the age of four years. Forty-five percent (45%) of all child murders occur in the first 24 hours of life, and thus can be classified as neonaticide.[19] For the period 1982-1987, approximately 1.1% of all homicides have been of children under one year of age. Eight to nine percent (8%–9%) of all murders are of persons under 18 years of age. Of these, almost twice as many sons as compared to daughters are victims.[20] In half of the cases death occurs literally "at the hands of" the parent. Weapons are almost never used in neonaticide. Drowning, strangulation, head trauma, suffocation, and exposure (to the elements) are all common methods.[20]

Maternal neonaticide[edit]

90% of neonaticidal mothers are 25 years of age or younger. Less than 20% are married. Less than 30% are seen as psychotic or depressed[20][21][22] They have typically denied and/or concealed the pregnancy since conception.

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b "Romanian Penal Code of 2009, art. 200". Retrieved January 29, 2013. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ Maureen Marks. "Infanticide". Psychiatry 8 (1): 10–12. doi:10.1016/j.mppsy.2008.10.017. 
  5. ^ Dr. Neil S. Kaye M.D - Families, Murder, and Insanity: A Psychiatric Review of Paternal Neonaticide
  6. ^ Hamilton, E.: Mythology. New York, Mentor Book, 1942
  7. ^ Wittels, F.: Psychoanalysis and literature, in Lorand, S. (ed): Psychoanalysis Today, Albanay, N.Y., Boyd Printing Co., 1944.
  8. ^ Black's Law Dictionary, Fifth Edition: St. Paul, Minnesota, West Publishing Company
  9. ^ 142 N.Y.S.2d 163
  10. ^ Victoroff, V.: A case of Infanticide Related to Psychomotor Automitism: Psychodynamic, Physiological, Forensic and Sociological Considerations. J. Clin. Exper. Psychopath; 1955; 16: 191-220. 10. Langer, W.: Infanticide: A Historical Survey. History of Childhood Quarterly; 1974; 1: 354-365
  11. ^ Hale, M.: The History of the Pleas of the Crown. London, E.R. Nutt and R. Gosling, 1736.
  12. ^ Infanticide Act of 1938, 1 and 2 Geo. 6, c36, sec. 1 (1)
  13. ^ Jeudwine, J.: Observations on English Criminal Law and Procedure. London, D.S. King, 1968
  14. ^ Wilkins, A.: Attempted Infanticide. British Journal of Psychiatry. 1985; 146: 206-208
  15. ^ Forensic Psychiatrist Expert Witness in Forensics Psychiatry - Dr. Neil S. Kaye
  16. ^ Garber, C.: Eskimo Infanticide. Scient. Month. 1947; 64: 98- 102
  17. ^ Devereux, G.: Mohave Indidan Infanticide. Psychoanal. Rev. 1948; 35: 126-139
  18. ^ Sakuta, T. and Saito, S.: A Socio-Medical Study on 71 Cases of Infanticide in Japan. Keio J. Med. 1981; 30: 155-168.
  19. ^ d'Orban, P.: Women who kill their Children. Brit. J. Psychiat 1979; 134: 560-571
  20. ^ a b c Uniform Crime Reports (1982-1987). U.S. Government Printing Office
  21. ^ Harder, T.: The Psychopathology of Infanticide. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica 1967; 43: 196-245.
  22. ^ Turnbull, H.R.: Incidence of Infanticide in America: Public and Professional Attitudes. Issues in Law & Medicine 1986; 1: 363-389.

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