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Filicide happens all over the world but the reasons differ from society to society

June 3, 2008

little girlI learnt a new word yesterday…filicide. It means “the deliberate act of a parent killing his or her own son or daughter.”

The murder of children by parents is in the news lately…the Aarushi murder case (where the father is the prime suspect) has still not left the headlines in India and now we hear of another case of filicide – of an Indian man killing his wife and stepchild in Australia. An earlier case – that of the a man of Indian origin, Ashok Kalyanjee, who killed his two sons (six and two years) in England last month – but it was barely reported in the Indian media.

Filicide happens all over the world and in all societies
Parents killing their children is not unusual in any society…only the motives differ. While mental instability and/or lack of control is the underlying factor of most homicides, filicide or not, the trigger/motive to commit the violent act depend on circumstances and the social milieu.

In western societies today the “reasons” if I may use that word, are thought to range from an inability to look after the child to an overwhelming loss of control over their life. Also, feelings of revenge/jealousy due to divorce and/or separation can tip a parent’s mental balance, particularly if the children are with the ex-spouse.

Germany has been rocked by baby murders of late…

…at a time when the state is pushing legislation to encourage people to have more children…experts say the rate of German mothers murdering their children is no higher than elsewhere in Europe

A woman may do it because she is single and unable to cope…and a man because he feels he is unable to provide for the child…however the article cautions that one cannot always pin down one reason for such a violent crime…the reasons are usually complex and mental illness can play a very important part.woman child

One would have thought that this problem would be less intense in Germany because of their strong social welfare system which helps single mothers. It makes one wonder whether finances are really the critical factor. In India women don’t usually murder their babies because they can’t look after them financially…desperately poor people continue to have children…though ofcourse in the hope that one day these children will grow up and support the parents. In India when there is a baby murder, it is usually a girl as girls are thought to be a financial burden. So finances do play a part after all. In filicide cases in the west, an equal number of boys and girls are murdered by parents.

In America baby killing is more acute than in Europe, if one goes by statistics, but again motives are complex…although inability to cope is considered an important reason.

In western countries women who kill their kids are usually thought to be mentally ill while men who do so are considered criminals
It is interesting to note that women overall are not prone to violent crime…unless it comes to murdering their own children…this they do as frequently as the men. Women commit less than 13 percent of all violent crimes, but commit about 50 percent of all parental murders. I think in India this will be the case too…although no statistics are available. For example, In female feticide cases, both parents are guilty. However, courts in western countries tend to be of that view and women who kill their babies are mentally disturbed while fathers who do so are criminals. This is why more often the women who murder their kids are “hospitalized or treated, while men who do so are disproportionately jailed, even executed.”

This has been proven by various studies in America as well as in Britain.

Well, we in India know differently. Women who kill their children are not necessarily crazy…they are criminals. But courts in western countries tend to take the more lenient view towards women.

Why parents kill kids
In western countries at least the motives for killing one’s kids are not that different when it comes to men and women. While women do it because they don’t want the child because they can’t look after it, men too can do it because they don’t want the child. They might feel unable to provide for it. Both men and women also do it because of some idea that they are committing an act of “mercy” because they themselves are planning to commit suicide. Men usually have other reasons too…they can do it because they want revenge against their spouse or because the children are taken away from them after divorce or separation. The presence of another man in the life of their child can also be a cause of intense jealousy. Men also do it because of perceived infidelity.

When it comes to female feticide in India men and women are equally culpable and financial considerations are paramount.

What about murder of teenage kids?
Parents killing their children once they are teenagers sounds crazy doesn’t it. In the west this is uncommon. In fact, there are more cases of teenage children killing their parents rather than vice versa…it’s called parricide. Often these children are abused children…

In India we have these cases too, but fewer than in the west. We needn’t congratulate ourselves on this because in India abused children usually run away and try and survive on the streets. Everyday we hear of such cases. In developed nations, the system is such is that runaways are often found and returned to the parents and the children also find it difficult to survive on the streets.

In India we have a different kind of killing of grown-up children…the killing of grown up girls by their male relatives, usually the father because they feel the girl has shamed them in some way. These are known as honor killings. Most of them don’t even come to light and happen most often in rural India.

(Photographs are by me and copyrighted. They are stock pictures)

Related Reading: Violent Crime in the world
Conviction rates of the world
Sensalisation of violent crime by the media
Why Indians prefer sons

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18 Comments leave one →
  1. Srilata permalink
    June 3, 2008 11:33 am

    So much fuss is made because in India there is female feticide…when actually parents killing children/babies is a world-wide phenomena. Not that I am trying to excuse but it’s a good point you have brought out.

  2. June 3, 2008 12:22 pm

    This post is a very sad one, but I appreciate your courage in writing this!

    // Well, we in India know differently. Women who kill their children are not necessarily crazy…they are criminals. //

    Please don’t add labels to those unfortunate women, Nita, they may be the victims of circumstances themselves. I am sure, that unlike men who kill their children, no mother on Earth would wantonly kill her own child, unless maybe if it is a part of the whole family committing suicide. Ofcourse, if the mother survives and the child dies, it could be considered as a crime, but I would still give the benefit of the doubt to the woman as she might have felt that it would be better to kill her child and herself rather than orphaning her child. Mothers can be very possessive of their children.

    I am not sure about this, but I have heard that as a part of severe postnatal depression, women can turn violent and kill their own children, so let us not blame them for that sad “crime”.

  3. June 3, 2008 1:42 pm

    taking a life is a crime. The mother has no right to kill her child just because she gave birth to her child. what ever the reasons she could cite, I would never accept that suicide or murder is an option.

  4. June 3, 2008 1:45 pm

    Parents who kill their kids must be mentally retarded people who never experienced love and affection in their life.

  5. June 3, 2008 2:20 pm


    I wholeheartedly agree with you that taking a life is a crime.

    But for heaven’s sake, suicide should not be regarded as a crime! It is because of the view that suicide is a crime that the stupid, regressive, archaic, filthy, barbaric colonial era laws in our country victimise the people who attempt suicide instead of supporting them get out of their mental condition.

    What is a serious crime is abetment of suicide or driving a person to commit suicide! The notorious barbarians who do such things should be put in jail till they die! I absolutely hate the death penalty as it is a collective crime by society! The death penalty is another of those stupid, regressive, archaic, filthy, barbaric colonial era laws that our country is famous for.

  6. June 3, 2008 3:00 pm

    Honor killing is the most shocking part 😦 for marrying someone in the same village.. etc….

  7. June 3, 2008 6:02 pm

    Srilata, thanks.

    Raj, thanks. However I cannot excuse any person who kills a child…sure a few may be mentally unstable but mostly they are just criminal minded, violent and selfish. I don’t look at this from the point of view of gender.

    Xylene, I agree murder or suicide is never the best option. Where murderers are concerned, they need to be put behind bars and those who are suicidal need help.

    Old Sailor, I agree, killers they say have some sort of deprived childhood…it’s also said that they might have some chemical imbalance. I don’t know the triggering factors.

    Raj, I don’t think that Xylene said that suicide is a crime. Nor did I.

    Dinsan, honor killings are everwhere, but the crimes are well covered up by families.

  8. June 3, 2008 7:26 pm

    An escellent, informative post, Nita, and also well-balanced regarding the comparison between western societies and India.

    I didn’t know about the statistic concerning the mental illness plea of women vs. the criminal status of men. Maybe juries find it inconceivable for a woman who isn’t psychotic to kill her children. An unfair bias.

    The most famous case in the US of the last decade is Andrea Yates, who drowned her five children. She had been reported as suffering from post-partum depression for years, a condition that can turn into psychosis, causing suicidal and homicidal thoughts. Here the controversy was why her husband was considered to be free from any responsibility in the matter, since he knew his wife was suffering, but didn’t do much of anything to relieve her.

    But then we hear all the time of women and girls flushing newborns down the toilet immediately after birth! The thought is so sickening it churns my stomach to even type the words. Very disturbing.

    You are brave to stare this tragedy in the face and try to understand it.

  9. June 3, 2008 7:59 pm

    A very balanced article Nita. Despite the media playing up the dangers of strangers and serial killers, the most likely cause of murder is from a family member. Honor killings, which are disgusting not matter where, are based solely on culture, but that culture is not dependent on country. Despite being illegal, rarely are the murders prosecuted unless in a country or area with a strong police and court system.

    Mothers are at a much higher risk of harming their children due to many different mental disorders that have been recognized as legal defenses. Societies need to do more to educate and help new mothers in dealing with their emotions and feelings. Insanity has always been accepted in criminal proceedings as a mitigating factor. The reason men don’t get the same treatment is that they are rarely insane when they murder their children. Of the children killed many if not most are killed by a boyfriend not the biological father and courts have consistently charged the mother as an accomplice in the murder.

  10. June 4, 2008 12:25 am

    Keeping aside insanity, which can be a valid excuse for killing one’s child as the person is not in his/her senses, I can’t understand why any sane person would commit such a crime??
    If a person is financially unstable or is afraid of bringing up a child, then why to even think about having a child???
    In India, the picture is a little different and a few days back I saw a report on a news channel that female killings are still rampant in many villages of Rajasthan. They were showing interview with a woman who herself killed her two daughters when they were born. Sick!!!

  11. June 4, 2008 10:03 am

    this is really sad,so much for being civilised..sometimes i wonder if we humans can be split into higher level and lower level,monkeys behave better than a few of us..

  12. June 4, 2008 12:59 pm

    Oh Boy! This is scary!!!

  13. June 4, 2008 3:43 pm


    No, I don’t think either you or Xylene would regard suicide as a crime. I was just talking about the regressive, filthy and barbaric laws in our country.

    While I am completely shocked to read Mariacristina’s comment and don’t know what to say, I agree with Brian that mothers can be at a severe risk of harming their children(especially just-borns). It is very unfortunate that society believes that every woman should happily experience motherhood. It is nothing but the imposition of the views of some women on other women. I would like the courts(and their usually male judges) to take a somewhat lenient view of women who kill their newly born children. I would request them to send such unfortunate women to hospitals that care for the mentally ill rather than prisons.

  14. June 4, 2008 4:09 pm

    Christine, thanks. It was difficult to write this post, because as you said these things are stomach churning. But I tend to agree that men are getting an unfair deal here…but then I am not an expert. But I feel that a man too can be under great stress to perform financially and this can make him unhinged when he has a baby…why only women become unhinged…I think the bias is there in favour of women. In fact I think women can be amazingly mentally strong as compared to men. See, I am biased too!

    Brian, I agree that men are rarely insane when they murder their children. I think the same for women too.

    Amit, parents murdering their children is very sick indeed, but when we see so many parents abusing their kids, we realise how evil parents can be. Their behavior seems insane to us, but basically these people are not always insane in the sense of diagnosed mental illinesses.

    Vishesh, ofcourse, why monkeys, the whole animal kingdom behaves better than us! They don’t kill each other, like humans do.

    Nova, scary and sick, but then common as well.

    Raj, as you see I tend to agree with Christine. Somehow I find it difficult to see murder from the point of view of gender. It is true that some women may be unhinged when they kill their child and maybe it’s because they don’t want the child, but when one talks of the majority, I cannot somehow believe they are insane. But I am not an expert on this and I may be wrong…maybe I can even agree with you and Brian a little bit and say that maybe more women who kill their children are mentally unbalanced as compared to men, but maybe 10-20 percent more, that’s all. Overall I feel men are getting an unfair deal here. I can believe a woman is cold-blooded while killing her child. In India women feel nothng when they throw their newborns into garbage bins, not because they don’t want the child, but because they don’t want a girl. And human beings are not very different in different societies.

  15. June 4, 2008 5:20 pm


    I guess this is one more topic where we will have to agree to disagree. But the really funny thing about this topic is that you and Mariacristina seem to be supporting men while Brian and I seem to be supporting women! 🙂 It fits in quite well with my strange views 😉

    You mentioned that it is difficult to see murder from the point of view of gender. But as you mentioned in your post, men are more murderous than women in general. The only exception is when they kill their own children. So I guess the excess percentage of filicidal women must be suffering from severe depression due to child birth. So I would always advise caution before we label those unfortunate women. You believe that there is a bias in favour of women. That is how it should be, because when it comes to having children, there is a huge bias in favour of men.

    // I can believe a woman is cold-blooded while killing her child. In India women feel nothing when they throw their newborns into garbage bins, not because they don’t want the child, but because they don’t want a girl.//

    I can never believe that women don’t feel pain when they do that, Nita. But the pressure from a patriarchal society(strongly supported by other women) unfortunately leaves them with no choice. They may not show their pain initially, but I am sure they will be going through severe torment internally, even if the baby is a girl.

    Also, you seem to have a very lenient view of the animal kingdom. While I agree that, in general, animals are more “civilised” than “savage” humans, exceptions are always there. Male cats(big or small) are quite well-known for killing their own cubs. And fortunately or unfortunately, reports about female animals killing their own young ones or abandoning them because they were born with birth-defects are quite common.

  16. June 5, 2008 1:47 am

    I am not sure that judgment of this sort of crime can be made entirely on gender. There are women who kill their baby daughters out of helplessness brought on by external pressures of family, and poverty, which is compounded by post natal depression, which make them believe that the child is better off dead than alive. There are women who kill their unborn because of the brainwashed thought processes which believes gender matters. In the same way there are men who attempt to end the life of the family, rather than let it face the horrors of failures. And there are men who are once again a product of a blood thirsty society that truly believes that they have the right over the life of their children and their moral choices. The problem comes in trying to differentiate one from the other. While the first kind will for ever be haunted by their crime. The later I consider as heartless criminals, who are more beast than human

  17. June 7, 2008 6:06 pm


    I read your well researched and well written posts on and off and I must say I admire you for what you share here.

    This is another excellent post. The link to honor killings does not open though. I recall reading recently in New Statesman that in most of so called honor killings, there is no sexual impropriety, not that if there is, gives the offenders the right to kill. At times the statistics is so shocking, for eg, dishonor killing in Jordan in one particular year found that 95% of the victims were virgins at the time of their deaths.

    Thanks Celine. Nice to hear from a reader always! Yes I tend to agree that the killings take place mostly on suspicion. And thanks for letting me know about the broken link. I have fixed it now. – Nita.


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