Infanticide or infant homicide is defined as the act of killing a child within a year of the child’s birth. While it is a crime that is mostly associated to developing countries or third world countries or countries that are still lagging behind the rest of the world, it is not unusual to come across cases of infanticide in countries that do not fit the tag or label of developing countries and that tends to suggest that there are various other causes or factors that compels the offender to commit the crime other than just poverty.
Technically while it is murder, because the intention to kill is or was always there, in most of these cases it is clear that the parents or parent intended to kill the child, the accused may still have a defense under diminished responsibility because the intention to kill may have been brought on by a psychiatric illness.
Now it is worth remembering that diminished responsibility is different from insanity and despite what most people may or may not think, diminished responsibility is not insanity. The test for diminished responsibility is a “a preponderance of probability” and the M’Naghten rules are used to establish insanity.
I’m going to divide infanticide into two categories i.e. that which occur in developed countries and that which occur in developing countries and the reason I’ve done so is because the underlying factors that compel the offenders to commit the crime are different or rather the offenders are motivated by different factors.
In a leading case in a major European city for example and I don’t really want to go into the details of where and when because our objective here is to understand and appreciate what infanticide really is and to try and acquire some understanding of it and to also realize that it could occur anywhere in the world and not pinpoint any area or region, the offender and her partner were charged with killing up to 8 babies.
The babies were suffocated and wrapped in plastic before the remains were stashed away either is some part of the home or disposed of in garbage bags and at the trial the prosecution adduced evidence to show that the crimes were committed not because the children would place a financial burden on the parents but because the parents wanted to remain sexually active.
I’ve highlighted this because whatever we choose to label it egoistic, machoistic or sadistic, these crimes are motivated by some sort of a mental imbalance and these are the types of situations where we can bring in the defense of the offender not being mentally sound or diminished responsibility.
If we were to use the reasonable man’s test the offender or the accused would no doubt be found guilty but these are crimes or offences that the reasonable man cannot contemplate or offences that are beyond the contemplation of the reasonable man or the ordinary man and therefore it is to some degree pointless applying the test because the only verdict that is going to be returned is that of guilty of murder or guilty of multiple murders.
Sometimes we have no choice but to look into the accused’s state of mind and we do this because we want to prevent these types of crimes from happening again.
The other reason why I have mentioned the case is because infanticide is not always caused by the offender’s inability to financially cope with caring for a child. It is the most common reason but it is not always the sole reason.
There is also a distinction between infanticide and child abuse and unless there is evidence that the child has been abused prior to death, the accused or the offender should not be tried for child abuse. In most instances of infanticide, the child is killed soon after the child is born. Child abuse implies wickedness or cruelty towards another human being, infanticide often implies a sense of helplessness.
The second factor that we should take account of is the age of the offender. Sometimes the offender is just too young and as hard as it may be to believe, some of these offenders just don’t know any better. Many of them don’t know how to survive with a child. Some of them can barely make it on their own and a child is an additional burden that they just can’t cope with.
In most of these cases especially when it is splashed across the front-page that the remains of a baby were found somewhere, the mother is instantly to blame and nothing is ever said about the father. I think we all know that it takes two people of the opposite sex to make babies and infanticide is one of those crimes where we can look at making both the mother and the father responsible or accountable.
Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward