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Court Records Reveal Newborn Killings more Common than Statistics Show

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Researchers say newborn killings, known as neonaticides, are more common than what official statistics show, discovered in a search of court records in France.

Though the incidence is rare, researchers writing in the Archives of Disease in Childhood say there is a "sizeable underestimate" of the number of infants killed within 24 hours of life, found in the analysis. Scientists found a mismatch in statistical reporting of newborn killings between official documentation and what they found in court cases. Research uncovered court data showing neonaticide was 5 times higher than official statistics.

Official statistics put the figure of the unlawful killing of newborns at 0.39 per 100,000 births for the same regions in France, over the same period, but the court data reveals the incidence is 2.1 per 100,000.

All of the women's cases researched had psychological assessments. The study authors looked at records from 26 courts in three regions of France, involving unlawful killing of newborns between 1996 and 2000, occurring within the first day of life.

One third of the 80 cases reviewed involved neonaticide. Of 27 cases, the researchers analyzed 17 of the mother’s psychological profiles, finding most were not young, poor, unemployed women per the usual perception. Mental illness was not apparent, the women had not been abused in the past and there was no denial of pregnancy - other factors also associated with women who kill their newborns.

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Instead, most had jobs comparable to women in the general population, with an average age of 26. One third already had at least 3 children and two thirds had not used contraception for the pregnancy preceding the killing. Additionally, half of the women lived with the deceased infant’s father.

The researchers say the most distinguishing features among women who killed their newborn was poor self esteem, fear of being abandoned by and dependency on others and emotional immaturity. Half of the women were depressed, concealed pregnancy from family and friends and all but 3 women gave birth alone and secretly. No deliveries took place in medical facilities.

The authors say, "Feeling very much alone, and for nearly half of them, depressed, [these women] probably did not have complete control over their lives or their sexuality. Neonaticide thus appears as a solution when an unwanted pregnancy risks creating a family scandal, or the loss of one's partner or a satisfying lifestyle."

There was no evidence to support the common perception that young, unemployed, poor women are more inclined to kill their newborn.

The findings, write the researchers, …” suggest that preventive action, targeting only young, poor, unemployed and single women, or women in pregnancy denial, may not be appropriate.” The incidence of unlawful newborn killings in France was found to be 5 times higher than that shown by official statistics.

Arch Dis Child Fetal Neonatal Ed doi:10.1136/adc.2010.192278