Drowning deaths in toddlers and preambulatory children in South Australia

Am J Forensic Med Pathol. 1999 Dec;20(4):328-32. doi: 10.1097/00000433-199912000-00003.


Infants who are preambulatory and toddlers who have only just learned to walk have particular characteristics that give them a unique susceptibility to drowning in certain circumstances. A study of drowning deaths in 32 infants and children <2 years of age in South Australia over a 35-year period from March 1963 to February 1998 was undertaken. The age range was 3 to 24 months (average, 15.4 months), and there was a male:female ratio of 21:11. Drownings occurred in home swimming pools (N = 10); baths (N = 9); waterways (i.e., rivers, irrigation ditches, sea; N = 5); buckets, bins, sinks (N = 4); and fish ponds (N = 3). Details were lacking in one case. Two cases raised questions regarding the manner of death and the possibility of inflicted injury. Specific problems that occur in the assessment of infant drownings include the vulnerability of infants to accidental and nonaccidental drowning, the absence of autopsy findings in inflicted drowning, and the lack of independent witnesses to the fatal episodes. Although the numbers of childhood drownings have declined in recent years, specific situations that remain dangerous for infants include unsupervised bathing and access to swimming pools, fish ponds, and industrial buckets containing water. Complete submersion does not have to occur for drowning to take place.

MeSH terms

  • Accidents
  • Autopsy
  • Child, Preschool
  • Drowning / mortality*
  • Female
  • Forensic Anthropology
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Medical Records
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sex Factors
  • South Australia / epidemiology