Infanticide: contrasting views

Arch Womens Ment Health. 2005 May;8(1):15-24. doi: 10.1007/s00737-005-0067-y. Epub 2005 May 4.


Background: The subject of infanticide is met with complex reactions. Paradoxically, the very same society that practices gender selection may also prosecute a mother for killing an infant. The author reviews historical, cultural, and political views on infanticide.

Objective: Using the case of Andrea Yates, the author illustrates the outcome of an infanticide case in American Judicial System in which a floridly psychotic mother serves a life in prison. This work explores contemporary worldwide experiences of infanticide and investigates culture specific attitudes towards causes, facilitation, and punishment of this tragic cause of infant mortality. The work illustrates the intricate relationship between a society's construction of parenthood and mothering, and its experience of infanticide.

Results: Infanticide is deeply embedded in, and responsive to the societies in which it occurs. Causes vary from poverty to stigma, dowry and insanity. The worldwide experience of infant murder reaches from facilitation of gender determination in China and Asia to lethal execution of mothers as perpetrators in the United States.

Conclusion: Infanticide must be viewed against the political, cultural, social and legal backgrounds of societies that treat women with disregard. It is a reflection of social and cultural norms governing motherhood, a constant that links these seemingly disparate acts. The overall association of infanticide with crime, postpartum illness, population and sex selection speaks to unjust discrimination against women and children. We as a world society can do a far better job of protecting motherhood.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Capital Punishment / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Child
  • Child Abuse* / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Child Abuse* / prevention & control
  • Depression, Postpartum / prevention & control
  • Female
  • Global Health
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Welfare* / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infanticide* / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Infanticide* / prevention & control
  • Insanity Defense*
  • Mental Competency
  • Mental Disorders* / psychology
  • Mothers* / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Mothers* / psychology
  • Puerperal Disorders / psychology
  • United States