Mortality, Burial, and Parental Attitudes
11 Infanticide and Child Sacrifice: An Overview
Infanticide and Child Sacrifice
In each chapter of this book infanticide has been discussed within various historical and sociological contexts. Accordingly, Williamson, in Infanticide and the Value of Life, succinctly states that “Infanticide has been practiced on every continent and by people on every level of cultural complexity, from hunter gatherers to high civilizations, including our own ancestors. Rather than being an exception, then, it has been the rule.”1 The purpose of the following chapter is to provide background on infanticide and child sacrifice, while also addressing the complexities that cause different cultures to accept these practices.
The historical literature is rich with examples of parents murdering their own children. Women often committed infanticide in order to hide an affair (or otherwise inappropriate sexual relationship), avoid being ostracized socially or professionally, or because of their inability to care for the child. In the modern developed world, given the legalization of abortion in most countries, access to social services, and options for adoption, most women who commit infanticide are teenagers.
In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, as courts have come to understand how women were affected by childbirth and postpartum depression, mothers who commit infanticide have been treated more compassionately than in centuries prior. In 1922 the criminal charge for infanticide was reduced from ← 129 | 130 → a capital crime to manslaughter, and generally included only infants killed within the first year of life. People who...
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