Filicide: a comparative study of maternal versus paternal child homicide

Crim Behav Ment Health. 2008;18(3):166-76. doi: 10.1002/cbm.695.


Background: Filicide is the murder of a child by a parent. Historically, filicide was regarded as a female crime, but nowadays, in the West, men have become increasingly likely to be convicted of killing their child. Previous research on filicide has primarily focussed on either maternal or paternal filicide rather than comparing the two.

Aim: The aim of our study is to examine and compare the socio-demographic, environmental and psychopathological factors underlying maternal and paternal filicide.

Methods: Data were extracted from records in a forensic psychiatric observation hospital in Utrecht, in the Netherlands for the period 1953-2004.

Results: Seventy-nine men and 82 women were detained in the hospital under criminal charges in that period, having killed (132) or attempted to kill (29) their own child(ren). Differences between men and women were found with regard to age, methods of killing and motivation underlying the filicide. Conclusions The categories of filicide identified corresponded to those in studies from other countries, indicating that filicide follows similar patterns throughout the Western world. The fact that 25% of fathers had killed in reaction to threatened separation or divorce, and that over a third of men and more than half of the women were mentally ill at the time may suggest that increased monitoring by primary care physicians under such circumstances might have preventive value.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Criminal Psychology
  • Fathers / psychology*
  • Female
  • Homicide / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Methods
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Motivation
  • Retrospective Studies