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Friday, June 19, 2020


     The day you are born is the day you are most likely to be the victim of homicide. This cheerless statistic holds true whether you live in Stockholm or South Yarra [Australia]. The perpetrator will almost certainly be you mother. She will most likely be under 25, unmarried, still living at home or in poor circumstances, either still at school or unemployed, emotionally immature and astonishingly secretive. She has carried you to term without telling a soul of your existence. And somehow the parents with whom she resides never suspect she is with child.

     Now that you are born, it's not depression or psychosis that moves her to murder you. Mental illness rarely plays a part in this sort of killing. Nor is she overwhelmed by the feeling that life is simply too harsh for such a defenseless little creature for whom she cares a great deal.

     There is rarely great violence in the manner in which she kills you, her newborn child. She may simply abandon you to the elements. The only intense feeling she has is the desire to see you gone. She may even deny that you exist at all.

     This is the profile of a neonaticide, the murder of a newborn in its first 24 hours of life, a form of infanticide peculiar to industrialized countries. Most people probably never heard of neonaticide. There is no separate provision for neonaticide in criminal law. People are either charged with manslaughter or murder, or more rarely, infanticide.

     Mairead Dolan is a professor of forensic psychiatry at Monash University and Assistant Director of research at the Victorian Institute for Forensic Mental Health [in Australia]. She is co-author of a draft paper, "Maternal Infanticide and Neonaticide in Australia: A Forensic Evaluation." Dolan says that few neonaticides are reported because bodies are never found or reported to the authorities, or the cause of a death remains unknown. She also says there is an acceptance that coroners sometimes incorrectly rule a death accidental in actual homicide cases. "It is also accepted they can be reluctant to think the worst without supporting evidence," she says.

     Baby Haven laws have been enacted in most of the U.S.'s 50 states over the past eight years. They provide for a mother to abandon her newborn baby without fear of being charged with criminal abandonment. In the U.S. and European experience, the abandonment usually takes place at a hospital or at a police or fire station, where special hatches have been built into the walls. There are limits to the age of the children that can be abandoned, and there are frequently provisions for the mother to be reunited under certain circumstances.

John Elder, "Sins of the Mother: The Tragedy of Neonaticide," The Sydney Morning Herald, December 19, 2010

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